, Port Arthur, Texas

January 28, 2013

Compulsive gamblers often seeking escape

Dan Bledsoe
The Port Arthur News

— Todd R. (not his real name and initial) was in deep. He used some checks on a credit card account in his wife’s name to withdraw upward of $3,500 at a time to pay for his gambling habit.

Often he would reach around $20,000 and would then have to figure out how to cover that amount. Todd described racing home each day in hopes of beating her to the mailbox.

One night he won $6,000 in what he called a “back room” gambling place which featured 8-line slot machines and video poker. The amount he won was more than enough to cover the $3,500 minimum payment due the next Monday on his wife’s account.

When he went to pay the bill, the company that issued the card said it would only accept up to $1,000 in cash so he wrote a check on his “secret banking account” for the remaining amount.

His check bounced because in between his winnings of $6,000, he had gambled away too much.

Todd is one of about a dozen people who answer calls at one of the various Gamblers Anonymous hotline centers across Texas.

He said those with gambling addictions gamble to escape or to enter “a fantasy world; a place where they feel safe.”

“A scratch-off ticket player gambles for the same reason as someone who goes to a bookie or a casino,” he said.

Todd said that between 10 and 15 percent of hotline help calls come from people who play mainly scratch-off tickets.

Up until a decade ago, scratch-off tickets in Texas featured a 1-800 help line on the back of the ticket for problem gamblers.

The state initially appropriated $2 million from the revenue fund for each fiscal year of the 1992-93 biennium to the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA) for the establishment and maintenance of a compulsive gambling program, said Kelly Cripe, a Texas Lottery Commission spokesperson.

A percentage of those dollars were to be distributed to a non-profit gambling research or treatment organization approved by TCADA with the state increasing each its share session.

“The majority of problem gamblers share similar traits and backgrounds that make it easy to identify,” said Stuart A. Wright, professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Criminal Justice at Lamar University in Beaumont.

“Lottery ticket purchasers are disproportionately working class or hail from lower-middle income groups where the ordinary avenues of opportunities to upward social mobility are seen as difficult, impeded, or unattainable,” Wright said. “With lottery tickets, the cost/risk is relatively low while the potential gain is extremely high.

“I would suggest that there is a correlation between higher rates of lottery ticket purchases and disproportionate working class populations and/or perceived opportunities to upward mobility. It may be seen as way of by-passing the obstacles that society places in the way of wealth acquisition or economic improvement.”

And if things are not working then consider this; “This is also some research literature to suggest that the appeal to winning the lottery plays to magical thinking. Gamblers tend to be more superstitious, or at least believe that luck and fortune are important determinants in life.”

Education, or lack thereof, is yet another factor, too, Wright said.