Have gamblers hit the jackpot?
It nearly robbed 54-year-old Larry of his life.
And it almost turned 31-year-old Susan into a criminal.
Those three Rock County residents, all in gambling counseling, know better than anyone that ways to gamble abound more than ever before.
There’s video lottery, black jack and bingo plus scratch tickets, poker, slot machines and Powerball in addition to sports betting, pull tabs and dog racing.
The number of problem gamblers has increased dramatically over the past decade. So has their debt.
From 1996 to 2006, the number of calls for help at the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling in Green Bay increased 168 percent. During those same 10 years, their average amount of annual debt increased 89 percent, from $22,669 to $42,918.
With the proliferation of online gambling as well as the surge in popularity of tournament and celebrity poker on a number of cable networks, gambling has become a popular form of entertainment on college campuses and even at many high schools nationwide, said Rose Gruber, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling.
Older adults gamble to escape loneliness and depression, as a way to be active with friends, to increase their fixed incomes, to forget about the past and as a way to have fun, according to a council brochure.
Gambling also has become more prevalent among females.
One reason is because more women have expendable incomes, said Ray Hadley of Milton, who is a nationally certified gambling counselor supervisor II and until recently a longtime Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling board member.
“They (women) also have more freedom and are under a lot of stress so seek gambling as an escape,” said Hadley, who treats about 30 patients a week at his practice. Of them, 25 percent are compulsive gamblers and four of his last five new patients were compulsive gamblers.
“That’s a lot,” he said.
After more than 11 years of treating compulsive gamblers, Hadley said the biggest change that has occurred is the availability of gambling in local establishments such as bars, gas stations and restaurants—all places his clients have patronized.
“Years ago, you couldn’t gamble in the bars, but over the last five years it’s become prevalent there, in gas stations and restaurants,” Hadley said.
Certainly, sports betting and gambling on the Internet has increased, too, Hadley said.
“There is a proliferation of gambling across society,’’ Hadley said.
For most—97 percent of the population—gambling is not a problem, he said.
“But for the other 3 percent, they’ll do whatever they need to do to stay in action even if that means theft or not meeting the rent,’’ Hadley said.
Hadley knows that first hand since he’s counseled several people who have lost their family farms due to gambling debt.
“That’s stealing the family inheritance,” Hadley said.
“These are $500,000 farms where gambling has affected the entire family for the future,” he said.
As the availability of gambling increases, so will the number of pathological gamblers, Hadley said.
Yet there is hope for compulsive gamblers like Bill, Larry and Susan. They found help through the support of family members, Gamblers Anonymous meetings and/or counseling sessions. Ultimately, they won through their willingness to overcome this silent disease that results in feelings of shame, guilt, despair and hopelessness.
When does gambling become a problem?
-- When you spend more time or money gambling than you intended.
-- When you gamble to win back money or possessions you lost.
-- When gambling makes you feel badly.
-- When you begin to lie to yourself and others about gambling.
-- When you want to quit gambling and you don’t know if you can.
-- When you hide your gambling habits from friends and family.
-- When someone tells you that you might have a gambling problem.
-- When you borrow money to gamble that you are unable to pay back.
—Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling
Call the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Helpline 1-800-GAMBLE-5/426-2535, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wi-problemgamblers.org.
Meetings at Mercy Hospital, 1000 W. Mineral Point Ave., Janesville:
Wednesdays, 7 p.m., Room 1129.
Saturdays, 10 a.m., Room G210.