Gambling problem a life-altering addiction




Many may not perceive problem gambling as being as prevalent an issue as smoking or drug addiction, but the consequences of exceeding one's financial limits at the blackjack table or slot machine can be just as life-altering as any addiction.

That, in a nutshell, is what Jerry Bauerkemper, executive director of the Nebraska Council on Compulsive Gambling, told members of the Southwest Kansas Problem Gambling Task Force during a workshop Thursday at St. Catherine Hospital.

Bauerkemper made a presentation to social workers and behavioral health and problem gambling specialists about indicators of a gambling problem, as well as approaches to combat the problem, particularly in the ever-emerging online gambling environment.

Bauerkemper listed 10 indicators of problem gambling: a preoccupation with gambling; a need to gamble with increasing amounts of money; repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling; restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down on gambling; gambling as a way of escaping from problems; "chasing" losses by returning to win lost money back; lying to family members to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling; commission of illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft or embezzlement; harming or jeopardizing a significant relationship, job or educational opportunity due to gambling; and reliance on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling.

A persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior is indicated when at least five of these indicators are present.

"Chasing is the thought process of 'I'm going to come back and get my money back.' It's part of the gambler's thought process — because a lot of people who gamble think this, and this is the flip in gambling from reality. Let's say you go to the casino and you're up $500, whose money is that? The second that money comes out of that machine, it's yours. And what do gamblers say? They say, 'I won, so I'm playing on the house's money,'" Bauerkemper said, adding that in actuality it's the gambler's money. "The other is true, too, which is the chasing part. You just put $500 into that machine, whose money is it? It's the casino's money. It's their money, so why is it that you've got to come back and get 'your' money back?'"

He also said that problem gamblers experience irritability when they try to quit gambling because when they are gambling, the brain produces dopamine, a stimulant.

"The brain gets used to having that, and, when it stops doing that, and the person can't gamble anymore, it starts crying out. And that's why they go try to find more money to go gamble, because the brain is calling for more of that stimulant, that happy juice," Bauerkemper said.

Bauerkemper believes children and adolescents are at risk of becoming problem gamblers because of online games.

"The gaming industry is into the online kids' games. They're making a ton of money. That's the new wave. If you want to get on top and in front of problem gambling, start talking about this free gambling stuff — that it's not free, and that it's being used to get kids acclimated to eventually start paying for gambling," he said.

Rhonda Goodloe, regional coordinator of Catholic Social Services, is a member of the Southwest Kansas Problem Gambling Task Force. She wants to shine a light on that issue at the task force's next meeting.

"We are talking about casinos and things like that, but I think we need to broaden that and think about that and how it affects the children, and how we need to raise awareness, not just with casinos, and not just with scratch tickets," Goodloe said.

The Southwest Kansas Problem Gambling Task Force is made up of mental health professionals, treatment and prevention providers, social service workers, casino representatives and concerned citizens. Its goal is to educate people and provide responsible gambling tips to decrease the likelihood of problem gambling and addiction.

The task force holds monthly meetings, which are open to the public at 1:30 p.m. every second Thursday of each month at the Ford County Extension Office Conference Room, Ford County Government Center, 2nd Floor, 100 Gunsmoke, Dodge City.

They encourage people of all backgrounds to join the task force.

"It's a small task force, but we would really like to open it up," Goodloe said. "We would really encourage anybody to be involved to help us raise awareness."

According to the website,, the task force is neither for nor against gambling, but concentrates on efforts to help those affected by problem gambling through public awareness, prevention and education programs and ensuring resources are available to problem gamblers and their families.

That website also has links to resources to help those struggling with problem gambling. People also can call (800) 522-4700.

Help for problem gambling is available through the state, with funds coming from 2 percent of the three state lottery-owned casinos' revenues, at no out-of-pocket cost to those seeking help.

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