'The Super Bowl is a great excuse for a compulsive gambler to gamble'

Much like alcohol and drug abuse, gambling can become a serious addiction for some people

February 04, 2011|By DAN DEARTH |
  • Much like alcohol and drug abuse, gambling can become a serious addiction for some people.
By Chad Trovinger, Graphic Artist

 With the Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers set for Sunday, a lot of people will make bets, some friendly, some serious.

Larry Stouter, owner of the Catoctin Counseling Center at 228 E. Washington St. in Hagerstown, said betting usually increases among social gamblers during the Super Bowl period, but those who are addicted find the annual sporting an excuse to place a wager.

"There are a lot of people who gamble on the Super Bowl," he said. "There's a spike in gambling during that time .... But the Super Bowl is a great excuse for a compulsive gambler to gamble."

He said he has treated only 10 to 15 people for gambling in the last 17 years.

More than $82.7 million was wagered in legal betting during last year's Super Bowl between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, according to figures from the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

That doesn't include the additional millions — if not billions — of dollars that were waged illegally.

The American Gaming Association estimates that of all the wagers that are placed on the Super Bowl, only 1.5 percent are legal.

Much like alcohol and drug abuse, gambling can become a serious addiction for some people. The Washington County Health Department recently began offering help for those gamblers.

Wendy Puglisi, a certified addictions counselor at the health department, said treatment to help gamblers wasn't available at the local health department until six months ago.

"I know a handful of people who have shown up here since we started offering gambling counseling," Puglisi said.

Compulsive gamblers don't stick to betting on one thing, she said. They typically gamble on anything to feed their addiction.

"It's been very diverse," Puglisi said. "They gamble just to gamble."

In the worst cases, chronic gamblers will resort to a life of crime to finance their habit and put gambling over relationships.

Another sign occurs when gamblers start to rely on others to bail them out of debt.

"This doesn't include buying a lottery ticket every week," Puglisi said. "A social gambler does it for fun and sticks to limits."

'They can't quit'

Stouter agreed that most habitual gamblers gamble just to do it. Most of his gambling patients are addicted to slot machines, tip jars and playing the lottery, and some older women become addicted to bingo, he said.

"It wrecks families," he said. "There are a lot of bankruptcies and divorces. It's just as damaging as cocaine .... It stimulates the pleasure center (of the brain) just as much."

He said in some cases, gamblers mortgage their homes to pay off debts.

Charlie Messmer, clinical director of Wells House Inc. at 124 E. Baltimore St. in Hagerstown, said the nonprofit treatment center doesn't treat gamblers now, but it plans to begin doing so soon.

"In the past, we referred them out," Messmer said. "But the boss wants to get this going."

Messmer said Wells House, which primarily treats drug and alcohol problems, recently received an upswing in calls from gamblers seeking treatment.

"I've received more calls within the last six weeks than calls six months prior to that," he said.

A handful of Hagerstown bartenders said they haven't heard a lot of their patrons talking about waging bets for Sunday's Super Bowl.

"I don't hear that here," said Nick Young, a bartender at Bulls & Bears on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown. "I've never heard anyone talking about point spreads."

However, Young said he had heard people talking about gambling on the Super Bowl at other bars.

Although Richard Reeder has tip jars at his bar, the R & K Pub on Baltimore Street in Hagerstown, he said he tells customers who talk about gambling on the Super Bowl to go outside and do it.

"We just shut them down," he said. "It's illegal."

Reeder said he has a variety of gamblers in his bar. The majority spend $10 to $20 on tip jar tickets and quit. But some are more serious gamblers.

"You'll get some who spend $100," he said. "They can't quit."

Gambling danger signs

Here are some warning signs of problem gambling, according to Maryland Lottery officials:

  • Spends a lot of time gambling — Person may miss work, school, family obligations or other important events.
  • Hides gambling losses — Frequently talks about wins but keeps losses and information about family finances to themselves.
  • Gambles to escape — Uses gambling to escape from pressures at home or work; may gamble out of loneliness or grief.
  • Suffers severe mood swings — A person's state of mind depends on whether he or she wins or loses; when not gambling, the person may become anxious or angry.
  • Bets increase in size — Bets higher amounts in the hope of breaking even or winning back losses.
  • Tries to stop gambling, but can't — A compulsive gambler may try to stop gambling, but in most cases is unable to quit without help.
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