The Edmond Sun

May 21, 2009

The 'hidden' addiction

Mark Schlachtenhaufen

EDMOND — Whether it is betting on horses at a race track, playing slot machines at a casino or playing a hand of Texas Hold ’Em, there is a corresponding element of chance that gives many gamblers a “rush.”

That rush can be as addictive as drugs.

Gamblers have numerous outlets — sports, poker, the Internet, lotteries, bingo, games of skill, games of chance.

State Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a candidate for governor, has said he thinks Internet gambling is illegal in Oklahoma. And Edmondson wants federal legislation clarifying Internet gambling laws.

Yet Oklahoma contains many gambling outlets, including the state-run lottery, more than 80 tribal casinos and two “racinos,” horsetracks with casinos, as of 2007.

Another casino soon could be coming to central Oklahoma.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering the Shawnee tribe’s request to put land near Remington Park into trust. If the bureau agrees, the tribe plans to build a Las Vegas-style hotel and casino.

Tribal leaders said economic analyses indicate the project would have a $354 million annual positive impact on Oklahoma City. Opponents say it would be bad news, perhaps fatal, for Remington Park.

It also could create more compulsive gamblers in Edmond. Studies show compulsive gambling doubles in areas within 50 miles of a casino.

Many individuals gamble as a form of entertainment. However, an estimated 75,000 Oklahomans become intoxicated by the win and continue spending to win back their losses, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Problem gamblers can lose control, become guilt-ridden and desperate, said Caletta McPherson, deputy commissioner for ODMHSAS’ Substance Abuse Services. Their families suffer too, she said.

Pathological and problem gambling affects financial institutions, the criminal justice system due to more embezzlement, fraud and domestic violence charges, and human service agencies, McPherson said. It also leads to debt, bankruptcy, divorce, illegal activities, child neglect and suicide.

Individuals also are losing their homes and their retirement funds, McPherson said.

With the large number of casinos in the state, Oklahomans need to know that there will be a growing number of individuals with gambling problems, McPherson said.

Stats on Edmond youth

In Oklahoma, youth are growing up in a time in which some forms of gambling have been legal during their entire lives.

And many Edmond youth are gambling.

Of the roughly 2,800 high school seniors and sophomores in Edmond, about three out of four have gambled during the past year, according to the 2006 Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment Survey by the ODMHSAS.

Furthermore, almost half of Edmond 12th-graders and nearly one-third of 10th-graders played the lottery.

Also, 45.6 percent of 12th-graders and 46.9 percent of 10th-graders bet on cards. About one in four seniors and sophomores bet on games of skill and on sports.

A much higher number of 12th-graders, 18 percent, than 10th-graders, 3.8 percent, gambled at a casino.

Effects on business

Edmond resident Jon Cook is a chaplain for the Edmond Police Department. Cook also ministers to employees of 18 businesses in four states — Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Missouri.

Cook said some workers are gambling away their paychecks, and companies are being adversely affected. He said when he once called a prospective client from a large company the first question was about how to handle employees with gambling problems.

Gambling affects employee morale and issues like employee retention, Cook said.

Cook said Internet poker is an issue especially among males college age on up. McPherson agreed.

McPherson said 10 percent of adults meet the criteria for pathological gambling.

The warning signs of problem gambling include: thinking constantly about gambling; increasing bets to sustain the thrill; exhibiting agitation when cutting back on gambling; gambling as an escape; “chasing” or trying to offset losses with more gambling; lying to conceal gambling activity; financing bets through illegal acts; jeopardizing significant relationships with family.

Exhibiting five or more of those compulsive gambling symptoms may indicate a gambling problem.

Jim Scroggins, executive director of the Oklahoma Lottery, said officials are seeking ways to increase public awareness about the warning signs of problem gambling and the help that is available.

Scroggins said it is important for Oklahomans to understand these signs so they can know if and when someone has a gambling problem.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, six to nine million Americans will have a gambling problem in any given year, but only a small fraction will seek out services, such as treatment and self-help recovery programs.

In fiscal year 2008, 264 individuals received low- or no-cost treatment services through 11 ODMHSAS-certified treatment programs.

In the first week of March,during the 7th Annual Problem Gambling Awareness Week, the Oklahoma Lottery announced that it had contributed more than $1 million to the ODMHSAS toward education and treatment of compulsive gambling.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.