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Opinion: Compulsive gamblers

Thursday, April 19, 2007

By Leela Pandey

Compulsive gambling is characterized by an inability to resist the impulse to gamble despite heavy monetary losses and disruption of one's personal, family, and vocational pursuits. Approximately 85 percent of American adults report having gambled at some point in their lives, and about 60 percent say they've gambled at least once in the past year. Studies in the United States have estimated a 0.4 percent to 2 percent lifetime prevalence rate of compulsive gambling disorder in the general population. Gambling results in hundreds of billions of dollars in annual wagers and can become an addiction problem for some people.

An article titled "Comorbidity of DSM-IV Pathological Gambling and Other Psychiatric Disorders: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions" in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has shown that problem gambling is associated with significant financial and legal difficulties, high rates of suicide ideation and attempts, divorce and spousal abuse (Petry, Stinson & Grant, 2005). It is not only the person who gambles, but the whole family that is affected by the gambling behavior as the family members tend to feel unloved, neglected and financially in crisis. Gambling is an intergenerational problem, and there is a greater likelihood for the children of gamblers to have gambling problems in the future.

As gambling is one of the main problems in the United States, it is wise to use the money in a compulsive gamblers fund for prevention, treatment and education of problem gamblers. Legislation (House Bill 178) introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives by state Rep. Gary Dusenberg would set up a compulsive gamblers fund,

"This bill requires excursion gambling boats to deposit money from jackpots won by gamblers who have voluntarily excluded themselves from gambling boats into the compulsive gamblers fund," Dusenberg said.

Depositing the jackpot winnings into the compulsive gamblers fund will provide resources to treat problem gamblers, as most gamblers are not able to afford treatment for their gambling problem because they are usually in financial crisis. In policy research institute report of Wisconsin, Thompson, Gazel and Rickman (1996), reported that the average cost of formal treatment and rehabilitation for serious gambling problems is between $20,000 and $28,000 and involves a program lasting from 20 to 30 days. Studies show that few gamblers have undergone such treatment.

The compulsive gamblers fund could also be used to prevent the occurrence of problem gambling. These initiatives will greatly strengthen the efforts to assist problem gamblers and augment existing prevention programs. Prevention of problem gambling is every bit as important as treatment.

As Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, frequently says, "You cannot make advances in the battle against any disease by treating only the casualties."

The Missouri Legislature should consider placing restrictions on the future expansion of gambling. The money in the compulsive gamblers fund should also be funded in established programs that provide education to create awareness of all the negative consequences of problem gambling in order to amplify public consciousness.

The money in the compulsive gamblers fund could be used to develop prevention and education programs for problem gamblers of all ages and direct them to free treatment or treatment at lower cost and to heighten public awareness about problem gambling. This approach will help protect problem gamblers, their families, and the general public from the negative consequences of gambling. By helping one individual, we can also help many more.

Leela Pandey is a second-year graduate student studying social work at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.

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