"Gambling is the only addiction promoted by government."

-- Former Illinois Senator Paul Simon

Expanding gambling won't merely 'recapture' Massachusetts gamblers - it will create more gamblers, and cause much more gambling addiction here, because the availability of gambling results in more gambling addiction. An explosion in the number of problem and pathological gamblers in the United States has closely paralleled the phenomenal explosion of legal gambling opportunities in the 1990s.

The gambling industry and it's proponents want us to believe that gambling addiction only affects a small percentage of players, and that the majority of people can gamble with no problems.

"This has never been central to our economic growth strategy. It's, for most people, harmless entertainment,"

And if that's the case, why should we prevent people from participating in an activity which causes little harm while also generating extra tax revenue?

Actually, problem gambling is more widespread than the public had been lead to believe. Most troubling, the largest proportion of casino revenue comes from problem and pathological gamblers.

Slot machines, in particular, are highly addictive, much more addictive than any other form of gambling. Slot machines also generate the majority of casino revenue. According to Nevada Gaming Control Board statistics, from 1997 to 2007 the number of slot machines in Las Vegas increased just 2.5% - but the amount they won from gamblers jumped a whoppping 72.9%.

Please view this short video, The Sell-Out: How Massachusetts Plans to Create New Addicts To Pay For Struggling State Programs which reveals how the modern slot machine creates gambling addiction.

Understanding addiction

Human beings exhibit both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors. Addictive behaviors are persistent, hard to change, maladaptive behaviors. All addictive behaviors can be located along a continuum from mild, moderate to severe.

Both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors emerge from the interaction of 3 influences; what you're born with (biology/genetics), what you're born into (social environment) and how you adapt (psychology).

Cognitive-behavioral psychological theory states that addictive behaviors are learned and reinforced through the constant interaction of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Irrational short term, dogmatic, exaggerated, and denigrating thinking lead to self defeating habits (addictive behaviors). People with addictive behaviors have created a distorted reality. To change, they must change to more rational long term, flexible, realistic and rational ways of thinking.

Understanding gambling addiction

Most people who gamble are adaptive and do not have gambling problems. However, this group does not lose much. They account for only about 20% of gambling revenues.

Problem gamblers account for about 80% of money lost. A disproportionate number of returning veterans, the poor, low income groups, the less educated, minorities, the working class, the formerly incarcerated, and those with a wide range of emotional and addictive behaviors have gambling problems. They are especially vulnerable to the casino culture and its exaggerated illusion of immediate financial success.

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV-1994) defines gambling addiction as recurring maladaptive gambling behaviors characterized by distorted thinking.

Gambling addiction is highly correlated with alcohol problems. If you have a gambling problem, and drink, it will be very difficult to change your self defeating gambling thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Nevada has the highest per capita alcohol consumption rate, much of it given away. Most money lost in casinos is not carried in but lost after accessing additional money from ATM machines and credit cards. The MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas has more ATM machines than any other building in the world. Lottery revenues in Massachusetts would decrease significantly if Keno machines were removed from drinking establishments. The gambling industry understands full well that increased drinking leads to increased gambling profits.

Understanding the cost of expanding gambling

Proponents of expanding legalized gambling maximize benefits and minimize costs. They use projections suggesting that gambling addiction is an unfortunate, insignificant but manageable problem. That is not true. According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC-1999) about one third of active gamblers have some level of mild, moderate to severe problem;

  • Mild (at risk gamblers)-about 18% of active gamblers
  • Moderate (problem gamblers)-about 9% of active gamblers
  • Severe (pathological gamblers)-about 4% of active gamblers

Gambling addiction effects, and is effected by, many other costly behaviors including smoking, suicide, depression, domestic violence, child neglect, bankruptcy, traumatic stress and crime. Alcohol or drug use is involved in 60% to 80% of arrests and incarcerations. About 30% to 40% of the incarcerated are estimated to have gambling problems. About 2 out of 3 of the formerly incarcerated are rearrested within 3 years, according to a 15 state, 2002 US Justice Department study. For those who stay sober, recidivism rates drop to about 1 out of 3.

Self referrals for gambling problems are much lower (3%) when compared to people who self refer for alcohol (15%) and drug (25%) problems. It is reasonable to assume gambling addiction is underreported. Each pathological gambler cost society as much as $50,000 a year. Independent studies provide clear evidence (Grinols, Gambling in America-Costs and Benefits-2004) that the costs of gambling easily outweigh benefits by $3 to $1.

Addictive behaviors are learned and reinforced within an environment. The NGISC found the number of pathological gamblers double within a 50 mile radius of new casinos. Expanding legalized gambling will significantly increase the number of pathological and problem gamblers and confound efforts to abstain.

The Public officials who promoted the expansion of legalized gambling created their own false reality. They needed to do an honest cost-benefit analysis, independent from the assertions of the gambling industry. This was never done.

The Availability of Gambling Results in More Gambling Addiction

The number of Gamblers Anonymous chapters in the United States has nearly doubled in the last eight years as gambling has expanded across the country

Georgia now has more than 1,200 chapters meeting regularly across the country.

Gambling surveys in the state of Iowa showed a marked increase in the number of problem and pathological gamblers after the introduction of casinos. In 1989, only 1.7 percent of Iowa adults showed indications of having a serious gambling problem; by 1995, the percentage had more than tripled to 5.4 percent.

Dr. Rob Hunter, founder and director of the Charter Hospital Gambling Treatment Center in Las Vegas and a nationally recognized expert on gambling addiction, estimates that 15 percent of casino workers have a compulsive gambling problem.

In New York, the percentage of individuals who report having had a gambling problem increased from 4.2 percent in 1986 to 7.3 percent a decade later, as gambling opportunities greatly expanded.

In Oregon, the number of Gamblers Anonymous chapters increased from three to more than 30 within five years of the introduction of video poker machines. Gambling addiction experts contend video poker is among the most addictive forms of gambling.

Two gambling behavior surveys conducted in Minnesota showed a substantial increase in the number of compulsive gamblers coincidental with the expansion of gambling in that state. The lottery was introduced in Minnesota in 1990, while casino gambling was just gaining a toehold that year. By 1994, however, there were 17 casinos in operation in Minnesota with estimated gross annual sales of between $3 billion to $4 billion. The percentage of Minnesota adults who demonstrated a serious gambling problem in the past year climbed from 2.5 percent of the population in 1990 to 4.4 percent in 1994.

Gambling and Suicide

For millions of Americans, gambling addiction has become a pathway to pain and misery; for some it leads to death. Gambling-related suicides have become an increasingly common phenomenon, as legalized gambling has spread across America. The extent of this phenomenon remains largely unrecognized, however, due to a variety of reasons, ranging from a desire by surviving family members to protect privacy to attempts by suicide victims to make their deaths appear accidental for insurance purposes. Even so, the evidence beginning to come forth paints a grim picture of the depth of despondency which often accompanies a gambling addiction.

In a 1997 study, a University of California-San Diego sociologist found that "visitors to and residents of gaming communities experience significantly elevated suicide levels." According to Dr. David Phillips, Las Vegas "displays the highest levels of suicide in the nation, both for residents of Las Vegas and for visitors to that setting." In Atlantic City, N.J., Phillips found that "abnormally high suicide levels for visitors and residents appeared only after gambling casinos were opened."

In 1999, more than 429 Nevada residents committed suicide according to the Donrey Washington Bureau. Nevada has consistently held the highest suicide rate for more than 10 years.

February 2003 news reports said support for a proposed downtown casino expansion in Alberta, Canada is in trouble after statistics revealed an alarming link between gambling and suicides. Medical examiners suspect that at least one out of every 10 suicides is gambling-related.

In Gulfport, Mississippi, suicides increased by 213 percent (from 24 to 75) in the first two years after casinos arrived. In neighboring Biloxi, suicide attempts jumped by 1,000 percent (from 6 to 66) in the first year alone.

A survey of nearly 200 Gamblers Anonymous members in Illinois found that 66 percent had contemplated suicide, 79 percent had wanted to die, 45 percent had a definite plan to kill themselves, and 16 percent had actually attempted suicide.

The National Council on Problem Gambling, citing various studies, reports that one in five pathological gamblers attempts suicide - a rate higher than for any other addictive disorder.

Problem gambling affects families and communities as well as individuals.

Clinical and other observational studies confirm what common sense tells us: problem gamblers hurt their families as well as themselves. The compulsion to gamble leads to financial hardships: burdensome debt, loan defaults, and fraud; excessive payday borrowing; bankruptcy; loss of a business or home; and sometimes total destitution. Gambling destroys bonds of trust. Problem gamblers hide and lie about their gambling debts. They borrow or steal from family members, including children. They spend their time at the casino rather than at home.

Spouses are harassed by bill collectors and suffer a wide range of stressrelated physical and mental problems; they attempt suicide at three times the rate of the general population. Women in such situations are at higher risk for domestic violence. A study of members of Gamblers Anonymous found that upwards of 26 percent have gambling-related divorces or separations.

The harms to children are persistent and wide-ranging. They include financial insecurity, parental neglect, and pervasive feelings of abandonment. Some children have spent hours alone in parked cars or unattended at home while their parents gamble in the casino. Others have lost money, homes, holidays, and the chance to go to college, due to parents' gambling problems.

It is especially worrisome that more women, typically the primary caregivers, are joining the ranks of slots gamblers.

State regulation of casinos creates a conflict of interest, in which the state is charged with protecting the public from the very business practices that generate revenue for the state and which the state is co-sponsoring.

State governments are caught in a classic conflict of interest between their desire for more revenues and their responsibility to prevent harms to the public from unfair or exploitative practices.

Many have resolved the conflict in favor of more revenues from casinos. This decision is a violation of the precautionary principle, which holds that government must engage in due diligence before introducing a policy that might harm its citizens, even when the evidence of harm is not definitive. Yet in the case of casino gambling, there is clear evidence of harm, and that fact alone is sufficient reason to require a moratorium on state-sponsored gambling expansion. In fact, a moratorium was the main recommendation of the 1999 federally-funded report from the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. But since that time, states have raced ahead to locate commercial casinos in struggling communities and to extract revenues from citizens in those communities.

States are typically failing to protect their citizens from the harms of state-sponsored casino gambling.

Since the late 1990s, federal and state commissions have recommended policies to protect citizens from the harms of state-sponsored casino gambling. These "best practices" policies are designed to hold the producers of gambling—the states and their partners in the gambling industry— responsible for its serious harms. However, few if any states have actually adopted or implemented these "best practices." They include:

  • Prohibiting gambling advertising, as is the case with cigarette advertising.
  • Modifying the machine design to reduce speed and duration of play.
  • Removing ATMs and credit facilities from the casinos.
  • Requiring breaks/cooling-off periods in machine play.
  • Prohibiting free alcohol on the casino floor.
  • Displaying onscreen clocks on the machines.
  • Prohibiting casino lending on credit.
  • Establishing an independently funded National Institute on Problem Gambling to conduct research and public education.

States are typically failing to provide adequate help for the treatment of problem and compulsive gambling.

Most state assistance is seriously underfunded (generally one-half to one percent of casino revenues) and mainly limited to directing people to self-help information: 1-800 numbers; contact information for Gamblers Anonymous; and website addresses for state councils on problem gambling. Except for Gam-Anon, a support group for families of compulsive gamblers, there are very few resources available for children, spouses, and other affected family members. State councils receive a significant share of their funding from state gambling revenues and therefore are constrained from serving as independent advocates for more aggressive efforts to fund and treat gambling addiction, or to prevent the further spread of casinos in the first place.

Problem gambling is more widespread than many casino industry leaders claim.

What can be said with confidence is that the prevalence of problem gambling has increased significantly in the period of rapid casino expansion since 1993. In some states, the rate of problem gambling rises three to four-fold after the initial adoption of a casino before leveling off at this higher level or declining modestly.

Yet the gambling industry minimizes the harm. It claims that problem gambling affects an insignificant one percent of the population and that this proportion remains the same even as more Americans have easy access to nearby gambling venues.

Many scholars have criticized the one percent figure as misleading. It is based on a survey of the general adult population—a significant proportion of whom do not gamble at all. Moreover, it counts only the most severe form of problem gambling—typically people who exhibit three or more clinical symptoms used in the scoring diagnosis of mental health disorders. It excludes gamblers who have less severe gambling problems and people whose lives and livelihoods may be adversely affected by their gambling but who do not meet any of the criteria of a mental health diagnosis.

A better measure is the percentage of problem gamblers among only those who actually gamble. Still better is the percentage of problem gamblers among people who gamble frequently. Estimates of the percentage of frequent gamblers who are also problem gamblers range from fifteen to twenty percent. Among frequent gamblers who bet exclusively on slots, video lottery terminals, and other continuous electronic gambling machines, rates of problem gambling can be even higher. Lastly, one might want to look at specific vulnerable subpopulations, such as Asian-Americans and the elderly, who are catered to by the gambling industry and are at high risk for gambling problems.

Encouraging legal gambling as "fun" entertainment and an all-American pastime is a historically new development.

The promotion of gambling as a "fun" entertainment choice has emerged as the result of two converging forces: the states’ partnership with gambling interests to raise revenues that are not considered new taxes; and the redefinition of excessive gambling as a mental disorder affecting only a small percentage of the potential gambling population.

Throughout our history, gambling itself was regarded as a problem for the entire society. It led to crime and corruption. It harmed families, finances, and reputations. It undermined middle class values of work, thrift, and deferred gratification. That’s why it was illegal almost everywhere. But in 1980, in what was a watershed moment, gambling was defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association as a specific problem for those individuals uniquely susceptible to its appeal.

This medicalization of society’s understanding of gambling has had social, political, and public policy consequences that are both profound and troubling. One consequence is that the new understanding purports to divide the American public into two separate and unequal groups: on one side is the great majority of the population who can enjoy gambling as healthy fun; and on the other side is a small clinical population that fits the specific diagnostic criteria of gambling addiction.

A second consequence is that the gambling lobby has used the new definition of gambling to promote the idea that the harms of gambling are limited and manageable and that the gambling industry itself – the producer of the harms—is also the best source of research and investigation into limiting those harms.

A third consequence is that the redefinition of gambling exempts states from their traditional public health responsibility to prevent the known harms of gambling and, instead, allows government to shift responsibility for treatment onto the gambler herself and onto mental health professionals.

Casino Free Mass
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