Millions of people worldwide are trapped in financial and emotional despair due to their gambling addiction. Despite the growing problem, most casinos do not do enough to warn patrons of the addictive nature of gambling, and in fact many rely on gambling addiction to fuel the billion dollar industry.
The negative effects of gambling addiction are very real and the behavioural, social, and emotional consequences are similar to drug addiction. However, there are no physical signs that point to a gambling addiction and it is sometimes referred to as the “silent addiction,” as addicts can get to the point of losing it all before they or their family realise there is a problem.
Casinos are designed to be addictive.
They use a variety of strategies to keep people gambling, even when they’re losing. These strategies include:
- Creating a stimulating environment: Casinos are full of bright lights, loud noises, and free drinks. This creates an exciting and stimulating atmosphere that can make people feel more likely to take risks.
- Making it easy to gamble: Casinos make it easy to get started gambling. They offer free chips, low minimum bets, and easy access to ATMs. This can make it easy for people to start gambling without realizing how much money they’re spending.
- Rewarding gambling behavior: Casinos reward gambling behavior with free drinks, meals, and hotel rooms. This can make people feel like they’re winning, even when they’re actually losing money.
- Making it difficult to leave: Casinos are designed to make it difficult for people to leave. They are often located in remote areas, and they have no clocks or windows. This can make people lose track of time and spend more money than they intended.
Role of Casinos in Perpetuating Gambling Addiction
In the United States, lawmakers and the gambling industry have fuelled a rapid expansion of gambling by legalising Las Vegas style casinos in several states. Governments promote casinos as sure sources of income for hurting economies and promise they will provide more jobs and create revenue that will be put into schools.
However, when proposing to legalise casinos legislators do not talk about the money that will be needed to support gambling education and create gambling addiction treatment programmes. Some states do set aside money for these programmes as they begin to build casinos, essentially acknowledging the fact that by introducing casinos they will be creating new groups of addicts in the community.
Widespread government backing makes gambling seem harmless, and casinos are problematically touted as entertainment centres similar to ballparks and movie theatres. State governments downsize the dark side of allowing casinos to be built and never mention the destruction gambling addiction can cause.
A new report, and one of the few independent research reports conducted outside of the control of the gambling industry, gives an objective cost benefit analysis of introducing casinos into communities. The report concludes that the social and economic costs far outweigh any potential short term benefits, and that casinos are a regressive form of income for states that ultimately bring harm to communities.
Legislators argue that problem gamblers would still gamble and that casinos just concentrate the gambling in one place. However, casinos make the loss of money to gambling more systematic and widespread. They offer easy access and temptation for citizens to gamble closer to home and more often. People living within 10 miles of a casino are twice as likely to develop a gambling addiction as those who do not have access to this type of gambling.
Further, casinos are disproportionately dependent on problem gamblers for the majority of profits. Problem gamblers contribute to 40-60% of slot machine revenue. Slot machines are highly addictive and designed to persuade gamblers to spend more time on the machine and play until their money is gone. When people get hooked on gambling it creates financial security for the casino and despair for the gambler and his family.
According to Bill Kearney, a former gambling addict and avid anti-gambling campaigner, casinos operate like amusement parks with no safety belts on their rides — they offer no safeguards to help protect gamblers from becoming addicts.
Current provisions such as posting the 1-800-GAMBLER hotline which helps refer people to gamblers anonymous groups and self-exclusion programmes, where people can opt to have themselves banned from casinos when they develop a problem, only address the issue after one has already become an addict. They do not work to prevent addiction from developing.
Policy Changes Needed to Help Prevent Gambling Addiction
Several measures can and should be taken to improve casino policies in order to help prevent gambling addiction from developing.
- Restrict ability to gamble on credit.
One problem is the ease of access to cash and credit within casinos. Where cheque cashing is allowed, casinos use a third party system that guarantees the casino gets paid even when gamblers write bad cheques. This makes it too easy for people to break the law by writing and cashing bad cheques while they chase a slot machine they are sure will give them their money back eventually. Slot machines are, of course, designed to make the gambler think they are going to win, but always in the end, go in favour of the house.Where cheque cashing is not allowed and casinos cannot provide credit, they often have ATM machines that will allow gamblers to take out cash advances on credit cards. In Australia, where more money is lost to gambling per individual than any other country, local gambling institutions freely offer $1000 credit to anyone who will accept it – as long as it is paid back within a week. Of course, any time people start gambling on credit, problems are sure to arise. Legislation should take away gamblers’ ability to use any form of credit for gambling within casinos, and at the very least make it illegal to offer credit specifically for the use of gambling.
- Send out monthly comp-card invoices.
Casinos often offer comp-cards that track a gambler’s every move in the casino and offer incentives and rewards to regular gamblers. ‘Comp’ standing for ‘complimentary’, these cards track the amount of money that you play at the casino. Each amount you play, you rack up points. For example, after 90 minutes of playing slots, you may be rewarded with a free t-shirt. But in that 90 minutes, you also would have had to spend close to 100 dollars on the slots – pretty expensive t-shirt, no?!One proposed provision to combat gambling addiction would be to require casinos to send out monthly comp-card invoices to their patrons, so gamblers and their families can see just how much time and money was lost on gambling, and intervene before serious problems develop.
- Limit hours of operation.
Many casinos are open 24 hours a day. A visit to a casino in the early morning hours will quickly reveal the dark side of gambling addiction. A casino’s hours of operation can and should be restricted. If the place is closing, it will force gamblers to take a break – and hopefully once they are outside in the fresh air, they can reason with themselves and realise it was probably for the best that they have some time to give their wallets (and minds) a rest.
- Post and distribute facts about gambling risks.
One Massachusetts casino offers brochures that give people information about the risks of gambling and the reality of their odds of winning — but the brochures are placed off the beaten track within the casino. Posting factual information about the realities of gambling addiction, how it develops, and a person’s real odds of winning should be required and readily accessible within casinos.
- Place limits on slot machines.
Slot machines are the most addictive and popular of gambling methods. In Australia, people can lose up to $1500 AUD in an hour on the pokies, and some legislators believe slot machines should limit how much money people can lose before they are kicked off the machine. Some suggest that if a gambler loses more than $150 in one hour, they can not get back on a machine for 24 hours. This would give them some time to think about whether or not they should continue betting.The bottom line, is that gambling is an addictive form of entertainment and gambling addiction ruins lives just like alcoholism or drug dependence. Casinos unfortunately profit from people’s compulsive gambling and currently do little to address or acknowledge the problem.
At The Cabin addiction treatment centre we provide treatment for all substance and process addictions including gambling. Contact us today if you are struggling with compulsive gambling and need help.