For a few dollars more
June 13, 2008 · Updated 3:24 PM
By ERICA JAHN
Most people who gamble dont have a problem with it.
But, for the approximately 128,000 Washington residents like Richard, gambling is destroying their lives as badly as alcohol or drugs.
Richard, who asked that his last name not be used because of his ongoing attendance at Gamblers Anonymous, lost everything gambling.
Richard said he was primarily a card player, but hed also bet on dice or sports. If you came up with a proposition, Id be willing to bet on it, he said.
His serious problems with gambling began in 1983, after he and his wife separated. Gambling wasnt the cause of their split, he said, but the real, real heavy gambling started after that.
From 1983 to 1990, his gambling increased from a couple hours every day to several hours a day to several days at a time. It just got progressively worse to the point I didnt do anything else, he said.
According to the Washington State Council on Problem Gambling, a non-partisan agency that works with governments and the gaming industry to provide help to gambling addicts, almost 128,000 Washington residents have a problem with gambling, and another 138,000 have had severe gambling problems in the past.
A recent study showed that for the addicted gambler, the act of gambling released a chemical that affected the brain similarly to cocaine ingestion.
Gary Hanson, executive director of the council, said the action of gambling not the money hooks the problem gambler.
They are addicted to the high. They say its better than drugs. Its a euphoric feeling, and theyre addicted to that feeling, he said.
Those who are truly addicted to gambling are always in a losing phase, he said, because theyre addicted to that feeling.
Even when they get the rush of winning, they cant stop. Theyll always come back to play again, whether its until the moneys gone or the next day with the money they already won, he said.
Richard said every gambling and drug or alcohol addict hes ever spoken to said betting is harder to quit than using drugs or drinking. His own big wins werent enough for him to throw in the towel.
Its the feeling the action gives you. Theres nothing in life no marriage, no employment success and no financial success that compares to gambling, he said. Its being in the action. Winning is important only because it enables me to continue. Its never about the money.
There were lots of times he knew he had a problem, but he always managed to find himself back at the table.
I lost relationships, cars, custody of my son. There were lots of times I told myself it was a problem and I swore I would quit. But I didnt, he said. With all these events, I managed to push them aside and continue gambling.
Finally, I got to a point to where I had nothing. I was living in an apartment Id been legally evicted from. I had no job and no money.
He was suffering from medical problems, too. The hours and days he spent sitting at gambling tables caused pinching in the nerves in his neck, which was paralyzing his arms. With no money and no insurance, he couldnt go to a doctor.
He was at wits end.
I laid on the couch and prayed to die, he said. I laid on the couch for five days. I must have gotten up a couple times to eat or go to the bathroom, but I dont remember. After five days, I didnt die.
My first conscious thought was, Youd better go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. I got up off the couch and called. Then other thoughts occurred, like how to stay alive.
He went to Gamblers Anonymous expecting to be unique. He had been a lawyer in California, but said he lost his business because he was focused more on gambling than practicing. Then he lost his license.
I walked into the meeting knowing for sure I was different, he said. I had done worse things. I had committed crimes. I was sure the swindles I had pulled were worse than anyone else. I just knew I was different and special.
But as the 20 other people in the room described their addictions, I heard my story 20 times, he said.
Richard began attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings in 1991, but had a couple relapses. He placed his last bet in 1996.
Hanson said gambling addiction is tougher to treat than drug addiction and theres a higher relapse rate for those who have gambling problems because its harder to spot and easy to fall back into.
They only need a few bucks to get back in the game, Hanson said.
While the Washington State Council on Problem Gambling isnt anti-gaming, Hanson said, it always has maintained that money from gambling revenue should help pay for treatment for those addicted.
Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation to allocate $500,000 from new lottery revenue to the council for a gambling addiction treatment program. The council used the money to train 25 gambling treatment providers and stationed them across the state. In the first two months of the program, 148 people were referred for gambling treatment.
The problem, Hanson said, is legislators didnt provide on-going funding for the program. The revenue will dry up June 30.
Theres a pent-up need for this thing, he said. We need to keep it going.