Does Your Spouse Have A Gambling Problem? Guest Post By Elements Behavioral Health Center.

Hello and Welcome Recovery Friends and Visitors,


Today I have a special guest post by the fine folks of “Elements Behavioral Health Centers” with many center locations. They offer unique programs in different settings and offer programs in addiction and mental health. Why is this important? Like myself, we are seeing more people coming into recovery that also have mental health challenges.

And sometimes, these challenges can be part of the root to our addiction. They also have a gambling addiction treatment program as well. So if you know someone who needs help and they may be dually diagnosed? Please visit Elements Health as you will be in good hands. You can call for locations at 1-888-350-2457…

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Confirming Your Suspicions: How to Know For Sure if Your Spouse Has a Gambling Problem

You’ve known for some time now that something is wrong, but you just can’t seem to find the courage to confront your spouse on the issue. What you do know is that he or she has been distant lately, and that, along with a few other signs, means that there’s a problem that needs dealing with. Sure, it could be anything. And you probably want to dismiss what you’re feeling, that gnawing suspicion that your spouse just might have a gambling problem.

How do you know for sure if it’s gambling? Here’s how to get a handle on the issue and confirm your suspicions.

Step Back and Try to Remain Objective

Before we go into the signs that experts say indicate an existing or growing problem with gambling, it’s important that you approach the situation with some sense of objectivity. This will no doubt be quite difficult to do. You’re caught up in what’s going on since you and your spouse live together. It would be unrealistic to think that you wouldn’t be affected by the type of behavior and negative consequences that come from problem gambling.

Still, you have to maintain impartiality if you’re going to be able to look at the situation and recognize the common signs. Otherwise, you’ll be falling into the trap of denial and dismissing what are to others obvious red flags. In any case, even though it’s tough to do, you really need to step back and try to remain objective.

What is Problem Gambling?

In order to look at what may be going on with your spouse relative to problem gambling, it’s necessary to define what problem gambling is. Problem gambling, compulsive or pathological gambling, are terms that are used to describe a behavior disorder that has a tendency to become progressively worse over time – unless it is treated.

There are specific diagnostic criteria for assessing problem gambling as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. For the purpose of this article, we will be concentrating on the terms problem gambling and problem gambler. Their terms are meant to describe an individual whose gambling causes emotional, financial, psychological, marital, legal, or other difficulties for themselves and for those who live with and care about them.

It is important to make this distinction here because most experts generally view problem gambling as somewhat less serious than either compulsive or pathological gambling. But that doesn’t mean that problem gambling isn’t cause for worry. Problem gambling may lead to compulsive and then pathological gambling.

And, since problem gambling doesn’t exist in a vacuum, other addictive behaviors are commonly seen in a problem gambler. These may be a contributing factor or could arise out of the gambling behavior and include problems with drug abuse, alcohol, and/or addictive sex.

Types of Problem Gamblers

You may have not have heard the terms action gambler and escape gambler before but these are the two broad types of problem gamblers.

Action gamblers are typically men. They may have begun gambling when they were teenagers. Skill games are their preferred form of gambling, so they gravitate toward sports betting, poker, craps, dog racing and horse racing. What drives them is the belief that they are smarter than the system, and that they can consistently beat the odds and win.

Escape gamblers, on the other hand, generally drift into gambling a bit later in life. As the name implies, these gamblers get into the habit as a way of escaping their problems. Loneliness, depression, bad marriage, too much stress are some of the problems they’re trying to escape. Escape gamblers are typically women, but men can become escape gamblers as well. In any case, escape gamblers prefer a form of gambling that induces a hypnotic state of mind. These games include lottery, bingo, video poker and the slots.

Right off the bat, you may have some idea of whether or not your spouse falls into one of these categories of a problem gambler. If your spouse has always bet on football, frequently goes to the track, and has done so for most of his life, you’re already in the right ballpark to suspect that there may be a problem with gambling.

There is some research that suggests that people who grew up in families where gambling was prevalent tend to be more likely to gamble themselves. If the gambler in the family considered gambling as a way to solve problems, financial or otherwise, this attitude may be passed on to the children. In addition, people with a history of depression, hyperactivity, and mood swings may be more likely to gamble.

While there still needs to be much more research done in another area, children raised in families where the father is absent, whose parents are workaholics, are abusive, or where money is used to show either love or anger, may be more likely to develop into problem gamblers.

Problem Gambling Stages

Problem gambling progresses in stages. Some addiction experts separate it into three, four, five or more stages. We’ll simplify it into three stages.

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First, there is the winning stage. This is the period during which an individual discovers gambling, finds it exciting, intoxicating, a highly social and entertaining activity, and begins to see it as an escape from worry, stress, family or loneliness. The gambler may experience a few wins and begins to shower loved ones with gifts. He or she still has control over gambling at this point, meaning there is still money and the gambler isn’t resorting to extraordinary means to fund gambling. Life is good for the gambler in the winning stage. It will likely be the last time that this will exist.

The losing stage comes next. How quickly winning turns to losing varies – it could be extremely fast. No longer experiencing the consistent wins, the gambler becomes more preoccupied with gambling. They experience a need to make bigger bets, to bet more often. Money becomes an issue. All this begins to take an emotional toll on the gambler. Then, as losing continues, the gambler begins to “chase” the losses by making progressively bigger and more frequent bets even as he feels mounting guilt and shame over his actions.

It’s during the losing stage that credit cards get maxed out, insurance policies cashed in, items pawned or personal property sold, savings robbed, and retirement funds exhausted. Heavy borrowing becomes commonplace. The gambler starts missing work and lies to his or her family about gambling. A string of phony stories and lame excuses are offered to family and friends when the gambler gets jammed up and needs cash. What they’re looking for is a bailout in the vain attempt to recoup their losses.

The family begins to suspect – here’s where you come in – that there’s something really wrong. Creditors may start harassing the family demanding payment for past-due bills. Your mortgage may be past-due or perhaps one of the family cars is repossessed. The utility companies may even shut off services due to non-payment of bills.

Addiction experts say that it’s during the losing stage that many problem gamblers start calling gambling hotlines. If they recognize that their problem has reached a critical stage, they may be amenable to getting help. Unfortunately, many don’t stop gambling and progress to the next stage.

The final stage of problem gambling is called the desperation stage. As debts mount, his or her health shows signs that the stress is eating away. Insomnia is a frequent occurrence. Relationships deteriorate with the spouse, loved ones, close friends, and even co-workers or even worse they lose their job. Financial problems reach critical proportions. Eviction, foreclosure, and bankruptcy may occur.

The problem gambler has reached the end of the line. Feeling hopeless, powerless, depressed, filled with guilt, shame, and remorse, the problem gambler in the desperation stage may switch to escape gambler games for the purely hypnotic effect – anything to escape the intolerable reality his life has become. Some problem gamblers leave their family at this point, preferring to run away rather than face what they’ve done. Others attempt suicide. Still, others make the decision to finally get help.

What happens if the problem gambler continues in this desperate stage? Here’s where a fourth stage comes in. It’s known as the hopeless stage. Depression is common and suicide is often the only option the problem gambler sees at this point.

But let’s not think about the desperation stage right now. At this point, let’s look at some specific signs to confirm your suspicions and know for sure if your spouse has a problem with gambling.

Warning Signs of Problem Gambling

Since you live with your spouse or partner whom you believe to be gambling, be on the lookout for these warning signs.

  • Looking over the monthly statements for checking and savings accounts, you see withdrawals that you had no knowledge of.
  • Checks start bouncing and non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees add up.
  • Credit denial letters start arriving in the mail.
  • Items around the house start to disappear.
  • A flurry of collection notices arrive in the mail and creditors start calling demanding payment for past-due bills.
  • The bill for your spouse’s cell phone for calls and/or texts starts ratcheting up.
  • Your spouse is always secretive about money.
  • Despite having a job, your spouse always seems to be short of cash.
  • Your spouse may have taken over the bill paying, but you notice that only the minimum amount is being paid on bills.
  • Your loved one may become involved in very high-risk investing or starts frequently trading.
  • Despite the bills going unpaid, you discover your spouse has an unexpected and large amount of cash.
  • You notice that your wallet or purse is depleted of cash that you know was there, or your child says that money disappeared from his piggy bank.
  • Friends start asking when your spouse will pay back loans, or you find that there’s an increasing amount of payday or other unexpected loans that your spouse has taken out.

Problem gamblers also start experiencing difficulties at work that you may become aware of.

  • Missing work, arriving at work late and leaving early are typical signs of mounting problems with gambling.
  • Using sick days to get off work to gamble is another telltale sign.
  • Your spouse starts taking extended lunch periods or long breaks.
  • Your spouse’s boss comes down on him or her for failure to finish projects or tasks at all or on time.
  • Your spouse uses the company telephones for non-work related calls.
  • Co-workers report that your spouse is making calls related to gambling while at work.
  • Co-workers also may tell you that your spouse has asked to borrow money from them and takes an extreme interest in office pools, particularly sports pools.
  • Your spouse gets a reprimand for using office computers to gamble.
  • Cash advances on the company credit card used for gambling purposes, stealing or embezzling funds at work, and asking for frequent advances on a paycheck are other warning signs.

What You Can Do

Adding up all the warning signs, do you have your suspicions confirmed that your spouse has a problem with gambling? If the answer is yes, you have enough evidence to confront your spouse and ask that he or she get help for the problem. But is that a good move on your part at this point? What should you do, and in what sequence?

As the other partner in the marriage, you have a vested interest in keeping the union together. What happens to the family is very much dependent on the healthy relationship that the two of you share. When your spouse develops a problem with gambling, unless it’s treated, it could spiral from its current stage into an ever-increasing downward plunge.

Gambling addiction experts caution that encouraging your loved one to get treatment for a gambling problem may meet with a number of different reactions. First is denial. Your spouse will tell you anything he or she thinks you will believe in order to get you off the subject of gambling. There’s no problem. I’m not gambling. I can handle it. Stay out of my business. Everything will work out fine. These are just some of the statements you may hear. Of course, they’re probably lies. So you need to be diligent and persistent about trying to encourage your spouse to get treatment.

It won’t be easy. But you definitely don’t want the situation to get any worse than it already is. What you can do to help ease your own mind is learn all you can about how to deal with a spouse or loved one with a gambling problem. Look into a possible intervention with the help of professionals like Elements.

Consider joining Gam-Anon, the 12-step organization affiliated with Gamblers Anonymous. Gam-Anon is for the family and close friends of a gambler. Its sole purpose is to help assist you with the problems you face in your life due to your spouse’s gambling problem. It’s that simple, and that complex.

Maybe you don’t feel comfortable yet in actually going to a Gam-Anon meeting. Or, perhaps you’re afraid that your spouse will not take kindly to your attending. But you can go online and get answers to a great many questions you have, as well as find online and telephone support groups that can help you come to some reasonable way of dealing with your situation. No, it isn’t counseling, but it is support from others who are in the same position as you. These people know what it’s like to have a loved one consumed by gambling problems or addiction. They’ve learned how to cope, continue to encourage their spouse or loved ones to get help to overcome their addiction and, failing that, to mutually support each other so that life can go on.

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Gam-Anon meetings are safe places to bring up your current situation. No one will judge you. It is anonymous, so you don’t have to worry about others knowing who you are. You can laugh with others, cry, talk about what’s bothering you, ask for suggestions, and listen to the stories of others. This is a community of support – and it’s something that you need very much in learning how to cope with living with a problem gambler.

For now, just go online and check out the website. Look at the questions and answers. Download and print out or keep on a flash drive some of the Gam-Anon resources and publications. Check into some rehab facilities that treat gambling addiction or your States Lottery as they also have set aside money for treatment services and programs when others become addicted. 

Talk with a trusted friend, another family member, your minister or doctor. But do definitely seek some help for yourself. If you’ve confirmed your suspicions and are sure your spouse has a gambling problem, you can’t force him or her to do anything. But you can help yourself and be in a position to encourage your spouse to get treatment.

Bottom line: Reach out and get help for you. This may be the most important thing that you can do right now.
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“Presented by Gambling Recovery Starts Here!  ~  Catherine Townsend-Lyon”

“Problem Gambling Awareness Month” My Guest Is Vegas Judy. “What If You Live In Las Vegas?”


WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A RECOVERING GAMBLER LIVING IN LAS VEGAS.
by JUDY G.

MEET, VEGAS JUDY!

 

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This is about two aspects of me – my evolution as a compulsive and then recovering gambler – and my growing fascination and compulsion to be in Las Vegas. Intertwined?Yes. But also distinct and separate. What I mean by that is: If gambling didn’t exist in Las Vegas, would I still want to live here? Yes.

However, since gambling does exist here, would I want to live anywhere else? No.

Now, back to the beginnings:

My childhood years certainly didn’t include this yearning to be in Las Vegas. But I guess I always had yearnings – and in those days, it was to live in the Golden State – California. I  spent the first 8 years of my life exclusively in California – mainly Lodi and Woodland. But when I was 9, my father “re-upped” and went back into the Air Force, and shortly after that, he was sent to Korea.

In Fifth Grade, I went to four different schools, including one in Texas and one in Virginia. This was the beginning of my Air Force brat experiences, and at the same time, I began thinking that “everything would be perfect” if I could just be with my friends in California. So I always had that propensity to think the “grass was greener” somewhere else.

I started living in a sort of “escape fantasy land” whenever real life got too rough. Since most of our relatives lived in California, no matter where we were stationed in the U.S., we usually made a road trip back to the Golden State at least once – usually during the summer. Quite often, these trips would take us through Las Vegas, where often we’d stop and spend the night. During those early years, I never thought about gambling, of course. It was strictly an adult playland then.

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I was mostly aware of the celebrities who might be lounging around the pools or perhaps wandering in the casinos. I remember once being in a casino with my parents and hearing “Paging Mr. Belafonte, Mr. Harry Belafonte.” This was heady stuff for a movie-star-struck young girl. If my parents went to see a show at night, my sister and I didn’t mind. We’d stay at our motel, go swimming in the pool that was usually opened all night, and have fun on our own. I do remember seeing the “fantasyland” aspects of the Strip, such as it was, back in those days; such as the camels in front of the Sahara, the Sultan in front of the Dunes. But that’s all Las Vegas was to me then – a convenient stop on our way to my “mecca”, California.

As far as gambling, I had literally no experience or feeling about it one way or the other. Ironically, we were stationed in Wiesbaden Germany when I was 17, and my first “job” was giving out change for the small bank of slot machines in the Officer’s Club (the General Von Steuben). This was a pretty boring job. Hardly anyone spent much time in that little space.

I do, however, remember one woman who was pretty much a “regular,”  She started out feeding quarters into one particular machine and would stand there for hours, having drinks and hitting several jackpots, but by the end of the evening, there she was, slightly weaving, by now barefoot (there were no stools for the gamblers then, and those high heels got too tricky to stand in after awhile and after a few drinks) and her winnings had long gone back into the machine. I remember thinking how stupid and boring the whole thing was. (Little did I know that I was to become that woman one day).

My next exposure to gambling was back in Las Vegas. My first husband and I had (not surprisingly) gone to Vegas for our honeymoon.  In those days, there were no video poker machines, and I didn’t know how to play any “table games of chance”, so I just put a few quarters in the single reel slot machine and I might get lucky and win the “jackpot” – $25.

My second husband and I also went to Las Vegas on our honeymoon. He has the dubious honor of being the one who taught me how to play 21.  After winning a small jackpot on a machine, he suggested taking my winnings and playing blackjack. Of course, we had our Beginners’ Luck there, and that became my new favorite game, and a reason to escape to Vegas whenever I could talk him into it…

By the end of our marriage, we were two full-blown alcoholics, but he was happy to do his drinking every night in front of the TV set.  I, on the other hand, wanted the action and excitement and fantasy of Las Vegas!

 

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One night I got into an argument with him and ended up taking off in my car.  I was picked up by the police somewhere near Ontario, California, heading to L.A., yet I told the police I was driving to Vegas.  The fact that I had my housedress on and was drunk might have alerted the police to the veracity of my statement, and I spent that night in jail.  Toward the end of my second marriage, I had met my third husband-to-be, who was temporarily my “escape companion”.  Why not? He had no job, no ties.  Why wouldn’t he hook up with this crazy alcoholic who had a car, and all she asked of him was to drive her to Vegas.

When we’d first arrive, I would hit the tables and eventually pass out– sometimes in the casino (where I had to be carried to the room) – and sometimes waited til I was in the room. Inevitably, the next day I’d be suffering a mighty hangover and severe pangs of regret and guilt, and we’d morosely head back to the disapproving situation at home. Sometime in 1986, I had stopped drinking (after it quit working for me, and I had become suicidal).

Everyone predicted that I would want to leave my “companion” who was 14 years younger than I, a drug addict and unemployed. But I insisted that we were “in love” and it didn’t matter if he continued to use and I had stopped; love would conquer all. We probably WOULD have split up, if it hadn’t been that I got pregnant (surprise!) at age 45, so now we had to stay together, and do the right thing.

So, here I was, a new mother (again), supporting my baby and my (by then) husband.  My only escape was the periodic trips to Vegas.  I wasn’t drinking anymore, so that was good, but that hadn’t stopped my desire to go to Vegas; in fact, it was stronger than ever. You see, I didn’t realize it, but my quitting drinking was possible because I simply substituted the one addiction for another – gambling.  A couple of years later, I decided “enough with these 12 trips a year to Vegas; let’s move there.”  Again, my husband had no reason to deny the request.  I was able to retire from my county job, after 22 years of service and have a small retirement stipend, and made sure I had a new job waiting for me in Las Vegas before we moved here.

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Sometime after we moved here, my husband brought home one of those hand held video poker machines.  I had never played poker before – only once, during a neighborhood friendly game, in which I had surprisingly won, with beginners’ luck, not having any idea what I was doing.  But with this hand-held amazing little thing, I learned to hone my skills quite sharply. Each time I went to a casino, it seemed that there were new and varied video poker games double bonus, triple bonus, bonus deluxe, etc., etc. In the last couple of years they added the three reels at a time, and now they even have 50 or 100 games you can play at a time. It’s mind-boggling!!

Now I had found the perfect answer to my female gambler’s dream. I didn’t have to sit and make chit chat with the other players at the 21 table. It could be just me and my machine –my lover–for hours at a time. No one to disturb us. The cocktail waitress would come around and occasionally I’d have a grapefruit juice (liquor was out, of course). This is a little personal, but I have to say that but sometimes I’d actually feel a mini-orgasm when I hit a jackpot. Meanwhile, at home, my libido was practically non-existent.

Sometimes the other players’ cigarette smoke would bother me, but usually, I could even ignore that – especially if I had a “hot” machine. I also loved it if they were playing the “right” music –usually some sultry and sensual, Marvin Gaye songs (“Let’s Get it On”), etc., or hits from further back –at a time when I was young and innocent.  The atmosphere in the casino appealed to me too –dark, soft neon lights flashing here and there, beckoning “come, play me”. No sense of time, no windows.  The tinkling of ice cubes in glasses, people laughing in the background. It was party time!

There has been a lot said and written about the commonalities of men and women gamblers and their differences.  For many men, it’s about being the “big shot”, showing off, taking a chance and winning big in some cases.  For many women, it’s more about escape and isolation. There’s one aspect, however, where this invisible dividing line blurs.  When I say I didn’t want to be a “big shot”, why then was it so important to me to use my “player’s card” at various casinos, and earn points so I could have the so-called “freebies” – like free room nights, free meals, free shows?  But more often than not, there’s no such thing as a “freebie.”

I remember about a year ago when I lost my whole paycheck at a locals casino.  A couple of days later I had no money, so my son and I went to the same casino and used some of my “points” to get a pizza in their Italian deli.  As we left, my son shouted out: “Thanks for the f____ing $1,000 pizza!” (Out of the mouths of slightly jaded babes!).

A funny thing about my style of playing is I didn’t want anyone to know if I hit a jackpot.  I wanted to just keep on playing – no congratulations or anything like that.  I was dead serious about this thing, and I didn’t want anything to interfere with my play.

Many times I sat there for 7 or 8 hours straight, without even taking a bathroom break. When I did, it was nearly impossible to make it without having an accident. So far I’ve concentrated on what I liked about being in the casinos.  What didn’t I like? Well, I didn’t like losing, and “chasing” my losses – or winning and yet not being able to quit until I’d put it all back. I didn’t like trying to get money out of a bank ATM machine, and being told “Unable to complete transaction”.

I didn’t like looking at myself in the bathroom mirror and seeing this strange, wild-eyed, with mussed up hair, confused and scared looking. Can you believe that even looking like this, some men actually “hit on me”?  I guess it was a matter of recognizing what they thought was “easy prey.” But I never resorted to that.  That was one of those “not yets.”  Not saying that it couldn’t have happened – just that it didn’t.

Worst of all, I hated coming home to anger and sadness, disappointment –my husband and my child looking forlorn and lost. What happened, Mommy?  Where was the pizza you said you’d bring home? Even when I had won, they usually weren’t that happy –unless I gave my husband some money so he could do what he wanted (gamble – or buy drugs), and get my son a new Play Station game or something like that, or say, “It’s OK, you don’t need to go to school today.”  He learned manipulation from the best teachers – me and his father.

I’ve managed to hit two milestones here while living in Las Vegas – of over a year “bet free”, but I never got much further than that. Looking back, I think it was because I thought I didn’t deserve any kind of success.  I was worthless. For the most part, I hadn’t really applied the 12 steps to my life –I just went on with it, usually as the martyr, until the pressure got so great and life looked so hopeless, that I had to go out and release my escape valve. All the pain and remorse of the past temporarily disappeared, in my pursuit of the fantasyland escape – the immediate fix, not thinking about the long-term effects.

The worst thing about living in Las Vegas and being a compulsive gambler is that the gambling is so accessible – you don’t even have to think twice about it – just hop in your car and go. Even the 7-11 around the corner has a few machines (although I liked to stick to the casino atmosphere as I mentioned above).  The best thing about living in Las Vegas and being a compulsive gambler is that there is ALL kinds of help – if you want it.

There are 24 hour GA (Gamblers Anonymous) meetings and people who know exactly what you’re going through.  I choose right now to stay in Las Vegas because I happen to love so many things about life here.  I especially am drawn to its history (yes, Las Vegas does have a history!) and I write about it at every opportunity.  I was excited in 2005 when this city celebrated its 100th anniversary.  It was Fantastic!

Is it stupid for me to remain here? Maybe so. Maybe not. One of my arguments is that gambling is available in just about any state now, and certainly in Europe. But the facts are, it isn’t as attractive to me anywhere else –not even “Reno or Laughlin” –certainly not “Atlantic City.” Something about being here in this jewel in the middle of the desert has me totally mesmerized and hypnotized. I look at the new games the casinos are offering – anything from ‘Betty Boop’ to ‘Austin Powers’ to the ‘Addams Family,’  and now ‘Popeye’ – and I wonder where it’s all leading.

It’s definitely luring kids, and I understand teenagers are being swept up by gambling – as much as drugs or alcohol. What’s the answer?

Blow up the casinos?

Make a new kind of prohibition? Probably not.

People will always seek their pleasures –in one form or another. They will be errant children. And some can get their pleasures in “safe” measures –not gambling more than they can afford, not becoming suicidal.

I don’t have anything really against gambling or drinking per say – I just know I can’t do it. Can I stay here in Las Vegas and fight my demons? Only time will tell, but I’m willing to give it another try.

(Judy wrote this in 2003 – “More has happened since then, but I’ll save that for another time.”)

Please visit and Purchase her Book Here on Las Vegas: The Fabulous First Century (NV) (Making of America) …. Author, Judy Dixon Gabaldon ~ aka: VEGAS JUDY

 

Addicted and Problem Gambling Can Cost More Than Money . . .

Addicted and Problem Gambling Can Cost More Than Money . . .

“There is a reason why I often share that “Gambling Addiction” is now the #1 addiction with the highest suicide rate than any other form of addiction. It needs to be repeated, and my heart breaks when I read another story of “Suicide from Gambling Addiction” like this I’m sharing today.  Another family has been devastated and torn apart with another life taken by this cunning disease.”

I recently came across this article published by  The Atlantic Magazine that also asks the question, should casinos be legally held partially accountable for the financial crisis and death by suicide of an addicted gambler? In this sad case, I do feel they should be. And I feel the spouse or family who may not have known how bad the gambling problem was, or what other negative activities took place by the addict in which to find money to gamble with because they are sick and making poor choices within one’s addiction.

The casinos do entice many to “Come, Play, and Win Big” in many of the commercials and I have read how casinos or places that have legal gambling use many tactics to keep gamblers playing longer. So, read this and share how you feel about legal action in my comment section. I’d love to know what you think.

How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts

Modern slot machines develop an unbreakable hold on many players—some of whom wind up losing their jobs, their families, and even, as in the case of Scott Stevens, their lives.

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JOHN ROSENGREN    DECEMBER 2016 ISSUE

On the morning of Monday, August 13, 2012, Scott Stevens loaded a brown hunting bag into his Jeep Grand Cherokee, then went to the master bedroom, where he hugged Stacy, his wife of 23 years. “I love you,” he told her.

Stacy thought that her husband was off to a job interview followed by an appointment with his therapist. Instead, he drove the 22 miles from their home in Steubenville, Ohio, to the Mountaineer Casino, just outside New Cumberland, West Virginia. He used the casino ATM to check his bank account balance: $13,400. He walked across the casino floor to his favorite slot machine in the high-limit area: Triple Stars, a three-reel game that cost $10 a spin. Maybe this time it would pay out enough to save him.

It didn’t. He spent the next four hours burning through $13,000 from the account, plugging any winnings back into the machine, until he had only $4,000 left. Around noon, he gave up.  Stevens, 52, left the casino and wrote a five-page letter to Stacy. A former chief operating officer at Louis Berkman Investment, he gave her careful financial instructions that would enable her to avoid responsibility for his losses and keep her credit intact: She was to deposit the enclosed check for $4,000; move her funds into a new checking account; decline to pay the money he owed the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas; disregard his credit-card debt (it was in his name alone); file her tax returns; and sign up for Social Security survivor benefits.

He asked that she have him cremated.He wrote that he was “crying like a baby” as he thought about how much he loved her and their three daughters. “Our family only has a chance if I’m not around to bring us down any further,” he wrote. “I’m so sorry that I’m putting you through this.”

He placed the letter and the check in an envelope drove to the Steubenville post office and mailed it. Then he headed to the Jefferson Kiwanis Youth Soccer Club. He had raised funds for these green fields, tended them with his lawn mower, and watched his daughters play on them. Stevens parked his Jeep in the gravel lot and called Ricky Gurbst, a Cleveland attorney whose firm, Squire Patton Boggs, represented Berkman, where Stevens had worked for 14 years—until six and a half months earlier, when the firm discovered that he had been stealing company funds to feed his gambling habit and fired him.

Stevens had a request: “Please ask the company to continue to pay my daughters’ college tuition.” He had received notification that the tuition benefit the company had provided would be discontinued for the fall semester. Failing his daughters had been the final blow.

Gurbst said he would pass along the request.

Then Stevens told Gurbst that he was going to kill himself.

“What? Wait.”  “That’s what I’m going to do,” Stevens said and promptly hung up.

He next called J. Timothy Bender, a Cleveland tax attorney who had been advising him on the IRS’s investigation into his embezzlement. Up until that point, he had put on a brave face for Bender, saying he would accept responsibility and serve his time. Now he told Bender what he was about to do. Alarmed, Bender tried to talk him out of it. “Look, this is hard enough,” Stevens said. “I’m going to do it.” Click.

At 4:01 p.m., Stevens texted Stacy. “I love you.”

He then texted the same message to each of his three daughters in succession. He unpacked his Browning semiautomatic 12-gauge shotgun, loaded it, and sat on one of the railroad ties that rimmed the parking lot. Then he dialed 911 and told the dispatcher his plan.

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Scott Stevens hadn’t always been a gambler. A native of Rochester, New York, he earned a master’s degree in business and finance at the University of Rochester and built a successful career. He won the trust of the steel magnate Louis Berkman and worked his way up to the position of COO in Berkman’s company. He was meticulous about finances, both professionally and personally. When he first met Stacy, in 1988, he insisted that she pay off her credit-card debt immediately. “Your credit is all you have,” he told her.

They married the following year, had three daughters, and settled into a comfortable life in Steubenville thanks to his position with Berkman’s company: a six-figure salary, three cars, two country-club memberships, vacations to Mexico. Stevens doted on his girls and threw himself into causes that benefited them. In addition to the soccer fields, he raised money to renovate the middle school, to build a new science lab, and to support the French Club’s trip to France. He spent time on weekends painting the high-school cafeteria and stripping the hallway floors.

Stevens got his first taste of casino gambling while attending a 2006 trade show in Las Vegas. On a subsequent trip, he hit a jackpot on a slot machine and was hooked. Scott and Stacy soon began making several trips a year to Vegas. She liked shopping, sitting by the pool, even occasionally playing the slots with her husband. They brought the kids in the summer and made a family vacation of it by visiting the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, and Disneyland. Back home, Stevens became a regular at the Mountaineer Casino. Over the next six years, his gambling hobby became an addiction. Though he won occasional jackpots, some of them six figures, he lost far more—as much as $4.8 million in a single year.

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Did Scott Stevens die because he was unable to rein in his own addictive need to gamble? Or was he the victim of a system carefully calibrated to prey on his weakness?

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Stevens methodically concealed his addiction from his wife. He handled all the couple’s finances. He kept separate bank accounts. He used his work address for his gambling correspondence: W-2Gs (the IRS form used to report gambling winnings), wire transfers, casino mailings. Even his best friend and brother-in-law, Carl Nelson, who occasionally gambled alongside Stevens, had no inkling of his problem. “I was shocked when I found out afterward,” he says. “There was a whole Scott I didn’t know.”

When Stevens ran out of money at the casino, he would leave, write a company check on one of the Berkman accounts for which he had check-cashing privileges, and return to the casino with more cash. He sometimes did this three or four times in a single day. His colleagues did not question his absences from the office because his job involved overseeing various companies in different locations. By the time the firm detected irregularities and he admitted the extent of his embezzlement, Stevens—the likable, responsible, trustworthy company man—had stolen nearly $4 million.

Stacy had no idea. In Vegas, Stevens had always kept plans to join her and the girls for lunch. At home, he was always on time for dinner. Saturday mornings, when he told her he was headed to the office, she didn’t question him—she knew he had a lot of responsibilities. So she was stunned when he called her with bad news on January 30, 2012.

She was on the stairs with a load of laundry when the phone rang.

“Stace, I have something to tell you.”

She heard the burden in his voice. “Who died?”

“It’s something I have to tell you on the phone because I can’t look in your eyes.”

He paused. She waited.

“I might be coming home without a job today. I’ve taken some money.”

“For what?”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“How much? Ten thousand dollars?”

“No.”

“More? One hundred thousand?”

“Stace, it’s enough.”

Stevens never did come clean with her about how much he had stolen or about how often he had been gambling. Even after he was fired, Stevens kept gambling as often as five or six times a week. He gambled on his wedding anniversary and on his daughters’ birthdays. Stacy noticed that he was irritable more frequently than usual and that he sometimes snapped at the girls, but she figured that it was the fallout of his unemployment.

When he headed to the casino, he told her he was going to see his therapist, that he was networking, that he had other appointments. When money appeared from his occasional wins, he claimed that he had been doing some online trading.

While they lived off $50,000 that Stacy had in a separate savings account, he drained their 401(k) of $150,000, emptied $50,000 out of his wife’s and daughters’ ETrade accounts, maxed out his credit card, and lost all of a $110,000 personal loan he’d taken out from PNC Bank. Stacy did not truly understand the extent of her husband’s addiction until the afternoon three police officers showed up at her front door with the news of his death. Afterward, Stacy studied gambling addiction and the ways slot machines entice customers to part with their money.

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In 2014, she filed a lawsuit against both Mountaineer Casino and International Game Technology, the manufacturer of the slot machines her husband played.

At issue was the fundamental question of who killed Scott Stevens. Did he die because he was unable to rein in his own addictive need to gamble? Or was he the victim—as the suit alleged—of a system carefully calibrated to prey upon his weakness, one that robbed him of his money, his hope, and ultimately his life?

Some Facts: Less than 40 years ago, casino gambling was illegal everywhere in the United States outside of Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey. But since Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, tribal and commercial casinos have rapidly proliferated across the country, with some 1,000 now operating in 40 states. Casino patrons bet more than $37 billion annually—more than Americans spend to attend sporting events ($17.8 billion), go to the movies ($10.7 billion), and buy music ($6.8 billion) combined.

The preferred mode of gambling these days is electronic gaming machines, of which there are now almost 1 million nationwide, offering variations on slots and video poker. Their prevalence has accelerated addiction and reaped huge profits for casino operators. A significant portion of casino revenue now comes from a small percentage of customers, most of them likely addicts, playing machines that are designed explicitly to lull them into a trancelike state that the industry refers to as “continuous gaming productivity.”

(In a 2010 report, the American Gaming Association, an industry trade group, claimed that “the prevalence of pathological gambling … is no higher today than it was in 1976, when Nevada was the only state with legal slot machines. And, despite the popularity of slot machines and the decades of innovation surrounding them, when adjusted for inflation, there has not been a significant increase in the amount spent by customers on slot-machine gambling during an average casino visit.”)

Other Gambling Addicts & Lawsuits: 

“The manufacturers know these machines are addictive and do their best to make them addictive so they can make more money,” says Terry Noffsinger, the lead attorney on the Stevens suit. “This isn’t negligence. It’s intentional.”

Noffsinger, 72, has been here before. A soft-spoken personal injury attorney based in Indiana, he has filed two previous lawsuits against casinos. In 2001, he sued Aztar Indiana Gaming, of Evansville, on behalf of David Williams, then 51 years old, who had been an auditor for the State of Indiana. Williams began gambling after he received a $20 voucher in the mail from Casino Aztar. He developed a gambling addiction that cost him everything, which in his case amounted to about $175,000.

Noffsinger alleged that Aztar had violated the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by engaging in a “pattern of racketeering activity”—using the mail to defraud Williams with continued enticements to return to the casino. But the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment in favor of Aztar, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit instructed the district court to dismiss the case, declaring, “Even if the statements in these communications could be considered ‘false’ or ‘misrepresentations,’ it is clear that they are nothing more than sales puffery on which no person of ordinary prudence and comprehension would rely.”

TO Read The Rest of The Article as there is more to this story  visit here:  The Atlantic Magazine  .  .  .  .


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SO, what are your thoughts and feelings around this? You know how I feel, so let me know what you think. I know there are those who never been “touched” by problem gambling and feel it’s the addicts “choice.”  I don’t fully by that either. Addicts are sick. I did not wake up one day and decided I wanted to implode and destroy my life. As I always say,

“Hate The Addiction Not The Addict.”


* Author and Columnist, Catherine Townsend-Lyon *

 

Last Guest Post Rounding Out Our Series of The Oregon Lottery-Forprofit Gambling. Who Is It Costing?

Last Guest Post Rounding Out Our Series of The Oregon Lottery-Forprofit Gambling. Who Is It Costing?

Hello and Welcome Back Recovery Friends,

I thought I would end my series of “Exposing The Oregon Lottery” a for-profit legal gambling sponsored by the State of Oregon. They have many online services like Keno, video poker, slot machines, along with all the other retail products they sell like scratch tickets and Powerball and other drawings. For me, it was a life changing experience to have for gambling machines to be practically everywhere you went. Bars, Taverns, Restaurants, even the grocery stores.

So I happen to be asked to share how or where did I gamble the most to become addicted by ” Keys To Recovery Newspaper, Inc..” They are a free recovery publication that has thousands of subscribers and is placed in many Addiction/Recovery conferences “Welcome bags” nationally all year long. They started a new column called; “QUIT To Win” about problem gambling and gambling addiction and recovery to raise more awareness of this growing disease. So here is my story of how I started gambling every day many times a day on “The Oregon Lottery” video machines, besides at Indian Casinos. . . . .

“QUIT To WIN” ~ Keys to Recovery

“I can still remember the day I learned about “Flush Fever” a video poker game sponsored by ‘The State of Oregon Lottery’ as it was just yesterday.”

I became aware of the video poker game “Flush Fever” that is on video machines sponsored by “The Oregon Lotteries Forprofit” gambling. My husband and I lived in So. Oregon for over 26 years before moving to Arizona in 2013 and where we live now. These poker machines are how I got my start into problem gambling, and slowly crossed into a full-blown gambling addiction, as we know this illness is a slow progressive addiction.

I wrote about this in my current book titled; “Addicted to Dimes, Confessions of a Liar and a Cheat.” Here is an excerpt of my book about this part of my gambling history. The Oregon Lottery for-profit gambling has devastated many lives and has torn many families apart. They introduced video poker machines in most bars, lounges, restaurants and even all these little “lottery retail deli’s.” Here is how I got hooked, then graduated to include Indian Casinos everywhere.

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– An Excerpt from My Book titled;  “FLUSH FEVER”

After a visit to Oregon with my parents, my best friend, Debbie, who had lived next door to me in California for many years, decided to move to Oregon after her visit. She moved up and stayed with us until she got settled at her new job. A few year’s prior, the state of Oregon passed a for-profit gambling bill to allow video poker machines in places that served food, such as bars, taverns, delis, and even most restaurants. The lottery already had Keno games online. For my addiction, that was a downfall for me as soon I started compulsively gambling later. It was so accessible and everywhere.

If you live in Oregon, you know what I mean. If you think about it, gambling is socially accepted. It’s pretty much everywhere you go – even in our children’s schools, with raffles, casino fundraisers, in our churches with bingo, and at our gas stations, markets and grocery stores with Megabucks, Powerball, Mega-Millions drawings, and scratch-off ticket machines. So, for an addicted gambler, it seemed “action” was everywhere, and when you’re addicted, you have no self-control. You feel as though you’re always teetering on a high wire.

When the state approved the video poker machines, the machines also popped up everywhere. Why drive to Las Vegas, Reno or Lake Tahoe, or go to an Indian casino, when you can go up the street to gamble? In the town where I lived, there were lottery retailers everywhere around town disguised as delis and, as long as they served food and soft drinks, they could have up to six poker machines in their stores. They also sold beer, wine coolers and the cheapest cigarettes in town. They offered all types of lottery services and games.

As my husband continued working out-of-town for the next several months, this left lots of time on my hands, and with my friend Debbie staying with me, she and I would often have lunch at one of these delis. Around the same time, she and I would take weekend trips to the Indian casino, or go to the deli for lunch a lot more often. As that year went by, I also noticed I’d spend a little more money than I should have. I believe it was because of the easy access to gambling, and too much time on my hands. Was I addicted at this point? Hardly. That would soon change, though. As I look back now, I was experiencing a few “red flags” of addiction, but not recognizing them. I remember having growing feelings of excitement before I went, knowing I’d get to gamble if we met for lunch at the deli, or if we were going to the Indian casino.

The only thing I did was play Keno if we went at our local deli. I had never played the new video poker machines there, which were operated by the state lottery. One day, in early 1998, Deb and I went to have our usual lunch at the deli on a Saturday. We started talking to four retired gentlemen, who were also having lunch and playing Keno while they ate. One of them finished his lunch and went on the other side of the deli playing one of the video poker machines, so I walked over to watch him play. He was winning. He had about $140 worth of credits on his poker machine. I asked him how much of that money did he start with to win? He said “only $10,” and he cashed out that $140.

Well, you don’t have to tell a person like me who used to work in a bank how much profit he’d made so far. He was playing a game called “Flush Fever,” and explained how the game worked. I think that’s the day my life changed. The machine next to him was open, so I sat next to him and put in only $5 and won $45. I thought, ‘Wow, that sure was easy money.’ So, I cashed out my ticket, sat back down next to him and played again. I started with $ 10 – it was a quarter game, so I increased my bet to 75 cents a hand. The machine started paying again. See, it’s the allure of the game and thinking you’re winning every time you play. That’s why winning, for an addicted gambler, is just as bad as losing. It will keep a person’s ass on that chair gambling. The same with chasing your loss.

As I was playing, the guy next to me got up and was getting ready to leave. For as long as I live, I will always remember what happened next: He leaned over my shoulder and said to me, “When you’re ahead, always cash out, and know when to leave with their money, because I’d hate myself if you got hooked on these machines.” Oh, if only I had listened to his sage wisdom. I still look back today, all these years later, and I remember what that man said to me. He never knew how that day changed my life because I never saw him there again. He never knew my story of how I became a gambling addict. . . . .


“The cruelest lies are often told in silence.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Addicted to Dimes (Confessions of a Liar and a Cheat) by [Townsend-Lyon, Catherine]

“Editorial Review”

By Author, Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin PhD., Best Selling Author.

“Pathological Gambling is a more serious problem than most people realize.”Author, Catherine Townsend-Lyon’s honest accounting of rejection and abandonment issues, verbal and sexual abuse, stress and anxiety, family dysfunction, relationship and communication problems, self-esteem issues, guilt and shame issues, and addiction are extremely powerful! She shows just why many individuals turn to, and are set up for addiction. Her tell-all style of writing was like listening to a friend tell you their life story. Not everyone has an “angelic childhood.”

This book is about in-depth healing, love, overcoming, rising above, and being your brother’s and sister’s keeper. This is a must read for anyone in the addiction treatment industry, and anyone suffering from problem gambling or family members who have problem gamblers in the family.

This book should remind us all not to believe the lies of addiction or others in the gambling industry. Remember that we all have a purpose, a place, and a right to be without gambling in our lives!”

“A great read and I highly recommend this one!”

Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin Ph.D., DCC, DDV, DD, NCIP, IMAC. Best-Selling Author, Editor, Publisher, Speaker,Coach, Consultant, Addiction Expert as seen on FoxNews, ABC, NBC.

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Meet Ronda Hatefi and How She is Advocating About Gambling Addiction with “The Take a Break Campaign & Day of Awareness”

“Ronda Hatefi and her family work tirelessly to raise awareness about problem gambling and gambling addiction. WHY? Because she lost her brother, Bobby Hafemann to this disease by suicide. Ronda does this through the help of “Prevention Lane” a program through Lane County Public Health in Oregon. It is a Day of Awareness for those who Gamble to just “Take A Break!” So, here is more about her campaign and how she advocates.”

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TAKE A BREAK CAMPAIGN:


OUR MISSION:

Problem Gamblers Awareness Day/ Day of Action Against Predatory Gambling’s purpose in “Take a Break Campaign” is to reach out to gamblers and family members to check in to make sure they are in control and gambling responsibly.

OUR GOALS:

• To offer an opportunity for businesses that offer gambling to show they care for their customer base.
• To offer family members and friends a way to start a conversation about responsible gambling.
• To reach out with our helpline information and offer hope and help to those who are unable to take a break.

WHO WE ARE:


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Ronda Hatefi, founder of Oregonians for Gambling Awareness Organization. I have been married 30 years, have 2 grown children and 2 granddaughters. Both of my children have graduated college, are working in their professions and are married. I am very proud of them and their accomplishments. They both grew up knowing my passion for helping others with gambling addiction.

I lost my brother, Bobby, 21 years ago after he took his life due to gambling addiction. I have worked since then to speak HOPE and HELP to gamblers and their families. I have been to many conferences, have spoken many places including New York, Washington DC, South Dakota and Oregon, as well as taken part in 3 documentaries (South Korea, California, and France).

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We have had our Oregon Governor sign a proclamation every year declaring September 29th as Problem Gamblers Awareness Day since 1997. Last year being the 20th anniversary of Bobby’s death, we took our Awareness day National. We are working with others across our Country to spread the message of HOPE AND HELP, as well as speaking the truth about how State sponsored gambling is a bad public policy and doesn’t bring only good things to our States.

The work I have done for 21 years has all been volunteer, I believe in what I am doing. I have partnered with some amazing people, Lane County Prevention Team, STOP Predatory Gambling, Voices of Problem Gamblers, and others. I feel it is important to work as a team to do the best work for the gamblers in our State.

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September 29, 2016 – Problem Gamblers Awareness Day in Oregon



HOW CAN YOU HELP?

First, click on the blue link above and READ all that Ronda is doing in conjunction with Lane County Public Health Prevention Team through the “Problem Gambling Awareness & Take A Break” campaign. As many other organizations too like “Stop Predatory Gambling – Les Bernal,” and others listed below are Joining In!

You can help spread the word by a REBLOG today, Friday and Sat…. through Oct 1st 2016! I know Ronda and I would appreciate the SUPPORT!!

And lastly:

Like other addictions, the compulsion to gamble can become the main priority of a person’s life. When this happens the emotional and financial upheavals are devastating. Often, the family is just as impacted by this devastation as the gambler. According to prevalence studies conducted by the Oregon Council on Problem Gambling, problem gambling affects approximately 80,000 adult Oregonians. For those entering treatment last year, the Oregon Health Authority estimates their combined debt related to gambling at more than $31 million.

Key events locally include the “Take A Break” campaign and Bridgeway Recovery Walk & Run.

In Oregon, treatment for problem gamblers and their loved ones is free and confidential and provided through Oregon Lottery revenues; those interested in seeking help may call the 24-hour help line at 1-877-MY-LIMIT (877-695-4648).

For more information about Awareness Day, contact Ronda Hatefi: ogao.ronda@gmail.com

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” Author, Recovery Columnist, and Gambling Recovery Advocate ~ Catherine Lyon ”

It’s Coming -“National Week of Action to Stop Predatory Gambling” Sept. 25th -Oct 1st, 2016. Meet Ronda Hatefi and Her Brother – Bobby’s Story.

Ronda Hatefi holds a picture of her brother, Bobby, a problem gambler who committed suicide in 1995.
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“Meet my dear friend Ronda Hatefi holding a photo of her brother, Bobby Hafemann one of the first suicide’s I learned about due to his Gambling Addiction .  .  . He was ONLY 28-years old.”

 


I caught up with Ronda a week or so ago by phone, and happened to learn some new information that I had not known before about Bobby. I invited Ronda to be the main focus for this 2nd annual “National Week of Action from Predatory Gambling” this year to follow-up and to keep her brother Bobby Hafemann’s memory alive. Even though Bobby isn’t with us, his story needs to be told often to help others who are still suffering and are stuck in the insidious “cycle” of Gambling Addiction.

Personally, after talking with Ronda I came to the conclusion that The Oregon Lottery and The State of Oregon had FAILED Bobby and his family. Ronda had told me that they had gotten Bobby in a form of treatment that was supposed to be provided by state funding of profits from the Oregon Lottery. But after a year or two, the treatment program was pulled and disappeared.

They also tried having him attend Gamblers Anonymous, well, the guy running the Hotline Phone Number just relapsed and was out gambling again when he had returned Ronda’s call. They were then told to seek help maybe through therapy or a psychiatrist or therapist, they had no idea how to treat a compulsive addicted gambler.
More failures. We ow know how this story ended. His suicide should have never happened!

So I will be sharing all the hard work that my friend Ronda Hatefi and her family still share’s today to help others in the upcoming week of Action. But, here is an article and story I came across about Bobby Hafemann and his death and how the family was devastated of the failures as they all desperately tried to help Bobby. . . . .

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LOSING THE GAMBLE ~ Friday, July 27th, 1995 ~ (Author Kate Taylor – Oregonian Staff)
Full Article on:  SSRI Stories – Antidepressant Stories

Summary: “The parents of a compulsive gambler say the Oregon lottery stole their son, caused his suicide.   The machines he haunted still blink up hearts, clubs, diamonds. Their glow still lures thousands of Oregonians every day.”

But Robert Lewis Hafemann, a compulsive gambler, has played his last game of video poker. After slipping his life savings and countless loans into gambling machines, and at the end of a desperate search for help against his addiction, 28-year-old Hafemann shot himself in his Milwaukie home July 20.

When he was buried this week, he left behind a grieving family as well as questions about the state’s most popular gambling game and the declining help for people who can’t stop playing.

“My Bobby was a winner,” said his father, Harvey Hafemann, clutching his wife’s hand at his Milwaukie home.   “He could’ve won at a lot of different things. But he couldn’t win that game. The Oregon lottery stole our son from us.”   His father doesn’t know how it happened.

Before 1991, when the Legislature invited video poker into the state, his family considered Robert Hafemann’s gambling playful and benign. He thrilled at his first scratch-ticket jackpot of $600 at the age of 18. The following years he won everything from cowboy hats to couches to television sets. He lost money, too, but his $45,000-a-year job as a steel fabricator easily made up the loss. He always had extra to give.

“He had the biggest heart you’d ever meet,” said his sister, Ronda Hatefi.  “He made more money than any of us, so he wanted to share.”   Then came video poker and the 1,500 taverns, restaurants and bowling alleys that put in 7,200 machines.

The machines, which bring in $1 million a day, drew Robert Hafemann like a siren song. He became one of the estimated 61,000 pathological or problem gamblers in Oregon.  He stopped coming home after work. Instead, he sought out machines.

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“He talked about the (video machines) all the time,” his father said.  “He said he was going to get out of this. He would win a million dollars, and we’d all be living on easy street.”   In his last few months, Hafemann spent every hour of spare time and every cent of his paycheck gambling. On the rare occasions his family saw him, he’d borrow money, say he was going to the store for a soda and return the next morning. He stopped picking up his mail and checking his answering machine because he couldn’t face creditors.

Hafemann’s family saw less and less of the son and brother they remembered.  “He told me he felt like a ghost, standing alone,” said his mother, Diana Hafemann.  “That’s what he looked like. We told him we’re here for you, but he said he just couldn’t stop.”

At work, he was efficient and industrious as always and continued to ask for extra shifts. But he stopped telling jokes and stopped asking his co-workers if they had heard any new ones. Instead, he asked to borrow money.

“I’d lend him small amounts and he always paid me back,” said Alan Christen, a fellow machine operator.  “You could tell his esteem of himself had gone way down.”  Then in May, he finally told his mother he was considering suicide and needed help.   “It was the best Mother’s Day present,” said Diana Hafemann.  “I told him he was a winner because it takes a big man to admit he’s got a problem.”

Searching for help:

Hafemann’s despair is tragically common, said Bob Denton, a treatment counselor at Portland’s Diversion Associates, a group that treats addicts. Almost half of the people he treats seem to be contemplating suicide, and about 90 percent say their worst problem is video poker.

When Robert Hafemann and his mother went to Kaiser’s East Interstate Medical Office for help, Diana Hafemann said a doctor prescribed her son Prozac and soon referred him to a general practitioner. Kaiser declined to comment.

When compulsive gamblers seek help, they often meet with the wrong treatment, said Steven Henry, a psychologist with the Clackamas County Mental Health Department’s gambling treatment program. “Pathological gambling doesn’t present itself with alcohol on the breath, needle marks on the arm, or roaches in the ashtray,” Henry said.  “It presents itself with empty bank accounts and the lifeblood drained out of families.”

Diana Hafemann said there were very few resources that could help her son. Many health care providers agree.  Oregon lawmakers this year approved $4 million for gambling addiction treatment over the next two years, $800,000 less than the previous two years.   Oregon lottery spokesman David Hooper said many of the county-run programs failed to spend all of the larger amounts allocated. He defended the growth of video poker, saying most of the players are healthy.

“It’s a very unfortunate, tragic circumstance,” Hooper said of Hafemann’s death.   “But it’s like any other product, there’s going to be individuals who are unable to handle it. You cannot run a society based on the exceptions.”  But those who work with gambling addicts say video poker, which is permitted only in six states, is the most virulent, addictive form of gambling.  “The hypnotic effect of screen and the speed of play engages peoples’ interest and allows them to escape from their problems in a way that no other form of gambling does,” he said. “The cost is also easy for people to rationalize — just $5 or $20 for a game, but then suddenly they’ve gone through $100 and the remorse can be overwhelming.”

That remorse was overwhelming for Robert Hafemann early July 20 as he sat drinking beer, going through his phone book and thinking about what he’d lost. He called one friend five times, despairing over his finances. She tried to calm him and thought she talked him out of suicide. He called the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department for a gambling hotline number. But Hafemann inverted two of the numbers as he wrote it on his notepad and thought the number had been disconnected. In his last words to his mother and father, he told them he loved them but said he had to take care of something he couldn’t stop any other way. He directed them to sell his belongings and pay off his creditors.

When his father and two nephews visited him Saturday, they discovered him slumped over a living room table with a six-pack of beer at his feet.

“I hate to say this, but I feel that this suicide was another job that he felt had to be done,” his father said. “He did every job the best he could, that’s the way Bob was.”

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Need help from Gambling Addiction or Problem Gambling? Call Today.


In Oregon:  call 1-877-MY-LIMIT (695-4648).

National Hotline:  call  1-800-522-4700 all days and hours for resources and referrals.

National Suicide Hotline: call Call  1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day.

Gamblers Anonymous – http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/hotlines
Find A Meeting: http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/locations

For Family Help:  Gam-Anon: Family and friends of problem gamblers can find resources and a list of meetings at gam-anon.org or 718-352-1671.


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The Truth About Lottery Video Poker Machines. Guest Article. “Man Vs Machine”- National Week of Action From Predatory Gambling.

Hello Recovery Friends and Welcome All Visitors,

As this is “National Addiction and Recovery Month and National Week of Action Against Predatory Gambling” I want to share a Guest Article I read a while back that sheds light on a guy who caught “The Oregon Video Poker” machines trying to make players lose instead of winning a hand of poker from an electronic game. It also sheds light on just how BAD the “odds” are of a player winning. So this man took on the video poker machines! (Article Courtesy of  Willamette Week News Website .

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“MAN Vs. MACHINE – A video poker machine dealt Justin Curzi a strange hand. Now he’s calling the Oregon Lottery’s bluff.” 

Updated March 4, 2015
Published March 4, 2015

Curzi, 35, had moved to Oregon in 2012 from San Francisco after selling a software company he’d helped found a decade earlier. He was fascinated with the games—the ubiquitous, flashing terminals found in bars, delis, and even pancake houses—and he played occasionally when out drinking with friends.

On this day—Jan. 10, 2014, a Friday—Curzi paused playing video poker while a pal went to get a beer. He used the break to study his hand—a 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of different suits. He was close to getting a straight, which would pay $5 on a $1 bet.

The game Curzi was playing, draw poker, allowed him to discard cards and get new ones from the dealer. He knew his best chance was to discard the 2 and hope the machine dealt him a 3 or an 8 to complete a straight.

But the machine suggested he do something Curzi thought strange: It recommended he discard the 7. He would get his straight only if he drew a 3. That would cut Curzi’s chances of winning by half—and he thought it was terrible advice.

“Hey, is this right?” Curzi asked his friend when he returned.

Curzi took out his iPhone and snapped photos of the screen and the machine’s serial number.

It was the first step to uncovering what he says is a $134 million scam by the Oregon Lottery.

 

Bad Advice

“Here’s how the video poker hand Justin Curzi got on Jan. 10, 2014, led him to investigate the Oregon Lottery machines.”

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Oregon voters approved the state lottery in 1984, and today state-run gambling contributes about $550 million a year to Oregon’s budget, behind only personal income taxes.

The lottery encourages dreams of riches. But the games are engineered to take your money. “Everyone should understand that the odds in all our games favor the lottery,” says Jack Roberts, Oregon Lottery director. That’s why news reports two months ago that a Portland man was suing the lottery to recoup video poker players’ losses struck some as ludicrous.

Who would sue over losing money while gambling?

But it’s not so simple. Curzi—who friends say is intelligent, analytical and obsessively curious—launched a personal investigation of Oregon video poker machines that led him to conclude the machines were cheating players out of millions of dollars every month. That’s why he filed a class-action lawsuit against the Oregon Lottery in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleging fraud. Lottery officials deny Curzi’s allegations.

“Good for him,” says Les Bernal, national director of the advocacy group Stop Predatory Gambling, based in Washington, D.C. “What the Oregon Lottery does with these games is create the illusion that you have some control, where in reality you actually have far less.”

Curzi is aware some people might assume he’s suing to make money. He insists he’s not. “The real reason I’m doing this,” he says, “is because it’s outright wrong.”

“Justin is not afraid to jump at things, he’s not afraid to question things,” says Rob Steele, a friend of Curzi’s dating back to high school in New Jersey. “That is just catnip for Justin.”

Six days after his curious experience with the Jacks or Better game at Quimby’s, Curzi sent a polite and inquisitive email to the Oregon Lottery.

“Hello, my name is Justin,” he wrote on Jan. 16, 2014. “I’ve attached a photo of a hand that was given to me in one of your Oregon Lottery machines.” Curzi explained how he believed the video poker machine should have given him the best advice. “This does not seem to be the case,” he wrote.

Draw poker is a game of luck, strategy and second chances. The dealer gives players five cards. Players then get a chance to discard cards in the hopes of being dealt better ones.

When you’re playing poker around a table in real life, you’re betting against other players in hopes of having the best hand.

But in video poker, you’re not betting against anyone. Each hand costs you 25 cents (or more, if you increase your wager), and you win money based on a scale of how strong your hand is. A pair of jacks might win you your 25 cents back. A royal flush—the highest and rarest combination—would win you up to $600.

Unlike slot machines, video poker gives the player a sense that strategy matters. In reality, if you play long enough, the machines are geared to eventually take your money, no matter how many wins you record. Still, the sense that a player can outsmart the game is part of its allure.

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What caught Curzi’s attention was a feature on the draw poker games called “auto-hold.” The feature puts the word “hold” over cards it suggests players should keep. Players can reject the suggestions at any time.

But auto-hold has a second, less obvious function. It allows players to play faster because they don’t have to stop to think about what cards to hold before hitting the button to draw again. That’s important because faster play translates to more money for the Oregon Lottery.

Before he got a response from the lottery, Curzi returned to Quimby’s, wondering whether the game’s bad advice had only been a fluke. He shoved a $20 bill into a machine to play the same Jacks or Better game. Within 10 minutes, the game was again advising him to hold cards that cut his chances of winning in half. Curzi says he just wanted a simple explanation. “I certainly didn’t think,” he says, “I would discover what I know now.”

Who Plays Oregon Lottery Games?

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Curzi grew up as a sports-focused kid in small-town New Jersey, the son of a prominent lawyer and a stay-at-home mom. Curzi—who played football despite his small size—also wrestled, played baseball and graduated near the top of his high-school class. He played wide receiver at Amherst College, where he majored in economics and history. That led him to New York City after graduation.

“I thought the only two jobs on earth were investment banking and consulting,” he says now.

He landed his first job selling investments. Working on commission, he’d target an office building, climb to the top floor, then work his way down, knocking on doors. “I was 21, looking like I was 16, asking people to give me their money,” Curzi says. He soon climbed the monthly leader board. His boss told him he was one of the youngest salespeople to reach the top.

He wasn’t destined for a traditional job. A sticker on Curzi’s apartment door showed a group of people heading one direction, and one person walking the other way. “Routine,” it read. “The enemy!”

In 2003, he moved to Brazil and quickly immersed himself in the culture, teaching himself Portuguese within months. “You feel like the guy has been there two or three years,” says Ken Barrington, a college friend who visited him.

In Brazil, Curzi met an American computer programmer working on a way to help accountants share QuickBook files. The two teamed up and sold the program, cold-calling potential clients from Rio de Janeiro on an Internet phone line. “We must have sounded like we were speaking through tin cans,” Curzi says.

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They called the business Emocgila—mochila means “backpack” in Spanish and Portuguese—and it blossomed to 30 employees. In 2011, Curzi and his partner sold the company to Thomson Reuters in a private deal; Curzi declines to say for how much. But friends describe him as wealthy. “I’m not Elon Musk,” Curzi says of the co-founder of Tesla and PayPal.

Curzi moved to Portland in 2012 with his then-girlfriend (and now wife), who grew up in Tigard, and now lives in a $565,000 Victorian in Northwest Portland. He consults for private clients, provides microloans to entrepreneurs through the website Kiva and drives a 1996 Isuzu Rodeo “whose crowning feature is where a dog chewed the back seats.”

Friends say they are not surprised Curzi—who’s just as likely to want to discuss North Dakota’s fracking economy as the business model for Purringtons Cat Lounge—zeroed in on something as small and seemingly innocuous as a quirk in a video poker game.

“So many times in life, people just overlook the obvious,” Barrington says. “Justin has a knack for pointing those things out.”

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Marlene Meissner, a spokeswoman for the lottery, drafted a response. Auto-hold, she wrote, “is based on optimizing the player’s opportunity to win the best (highest prize) rather than simply increasing the odds of winning any prize.”

But, as Curzi later discovered, lottery officials guided Meissner to a different answer, so she revised her email before sending it. “In your case, the terminal did advise a strategy — granted not the only strategy — for you to have an opportunity to win with the cards you were dealt,” she said in her email to Curzi on Feb. 3.

In other words, the lottery was backing away from telling Curzi auto-hold offered the best option.

Curzi wasn’t satisfied. “I know your interpretation of the law is that you only have to suggest ‘a’ winning combination, but why not the best one?” he wrote in an email the next day.

The lottery’s response? “Crickets,” Curzi says.

Curzi turned to Jay Zollinger, a lawyer who had helped negotiate the sale of Curzi’s business. Zollinger suggested a public records request might turn up some answers.

On Feb. 20, 2014, Curzi and Zollinger formally asked the lottery for documents concerning the Jacks or Better game Curzi played at Quimby’s, plus any correspondence, studies and reports about auto-hold. The lottery responded on April 8, saying it would take 30 hours of staff time just to review the records Curzi requested. The lottery wanted a $2,350 deposit to cover its costs.

That fee would have stopped most people. But Curzi’s lawyer paid it. The total bill for records eventually came to $3,581.49.  Six months after his request, in August 2014, Curzi received the first of five batches of records.

By September, Curzi had hundreds of pages of emails, memos, and spreadsheets. He made a copy of the originals, arranging one set chronologically and the second by topic. He took notes on his laptop in a file that grew to 4,800 words.

Curzi came across a Feb. 2, 2009, email with a spreadsheet attached—”Video Lottery Game Payout Percentage Report.” The document had come from Gaming Laboratories International, an independent auditor based in New Jersey that works with many state lotteries to test machines.

The spreadsheet listed all the types of Oregon video poker machines by the manufacturer, the millions of games played in one-quarter of 2008 and how much money players spent.

In one column, the document showed what various video poker machines, based on calculations of probabilities, were expected to pay out to players over time.

In another column, the document showed what the machines were actually paying out. Curzi thought the payouts should have been very close to what the game’s programmers predicted.

Some weren’t. Curzi discovered the game he had been playing at Quimby’s, the Jacks or Better “Bluebird” terminal produced by WMS Gaming, was off by quite a bit.

The spreadsheet showed Jacks or Better on average should be paying out 90 cents for every $1 players put into the machine. It actually paid out about 87 cents.

That 3-cent difference may seem small, but when multiplied by the huge numbers of video poker games played, it translated to about $1.3 million per year that Jacks or Better wasn’t returning to players.

“This,” Curzi recalls thinking to himself, “is totally corrupt.”

He kept digging and made a second big discovery: Lottery officials knew about the discrepancy, and the auto-hold function on some machines was to blame.

“Due to the vendors’ auto-hold strategies, a few other poker games have actual payout percentages that are below theoretical,” Carole Hardy, the lottery’s then-assistant director for marketing, wrote on April 1, 2009. Curzi discovered a survey of video poker players the lottery commissioned from Mosak, a marketing research firm.

“Across all player types, the overwhelming majority of players said they prefer the auto-hold feature in video poker games as it makes it more convenient and easier to play,” a 2010 Mosak report said. “Players said this feature allows them to hold the correct cards, thus increasing their chances of winning.”

Curzi had only hoped to understand how auto-hold worked. He had instead discovered the lottery knew auto-hold sucked millions away from players—and players actually thought auto-hold helped them.

The lottery’s rules require “a close approximation of the odds of winning some prize for each game” and say those odds “must be displayed on a Video Lottery game terminal screen.”  Documents Curzi received show lottery officials debated whether or not they should tell players the actual odds if they relied on auto-hold.

In a memo labeled “confidential” and dated Sept. 15, 2009, lottery officials reported they had been studying their system to find video poker games that might be making payouts that were too high. Instead, they found machines whose payouts were too low.

“This triggered additional investigation regarding the integrity of the games,” the memo said. “Further, there was a question whether additional information should be provided to players to ensure they have accurate information regarding how video lottery games pay.”

The Sept. 15 memo also contained this nugget about WMS Gaming, maker of the game Curzi played at Quimby’s: “WMS has confirmed that the auto-hold strategy for all WMS poker games is set to pay out lower than the other products as a result of the auto-hold strategies WMS has implemented.”

Lottery officials, according to a separate 2009 memo, decided to put accurate auto-hold payouts on the Web. But Curzi went looking online, even using the Internet Archive search engine, to see if the lottery had ever made public the lower odds. He found no evidence it had. Over the next month, Curzi built a spreadsheet to estimate how much money the video poker machines, based on the odds, should have paid out, compared to what they actually did.

What he found startled him. Payouts to video lottery players were as much as 5 percent lower when they used auto-hold than when they didn’t. That translated to $134 million.

To Curzi, it was an outrageous discrepancy—especially given that players believed auto-hold helped them, and the lottery knew otherwise. Buried on the lottery’s website is one disclaimer: “Auto-hold strategies vary by game, based on the particular features of a game and do not necessarily result in theoretical payouts.”

Curzi says that’s not enough. The lottery is supposed to be based on chance. “You can’t manipulate the game,” he says.

In October 2014, he sent the Oregon Lottery a letter detailing his findings and notifying officials he intended to sue unless the lottery reimbursed players within 30 days. On Dec. 4, a claims management consultant in the state’s Department of Administrative Services wrote back to say the lottery was still investigating Curzi’s claims.

On Dec. 31, Curzi took the Oregon Lottery to court.

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Jack Roberts, the lottery director, took over the agency in December 2013, following years of controversy and accusations the agency wasn’t doing enough to address problem gambling. He had earlier served as state labor commissioner and ran in the Republican primary for governor in 2002.

Roberts says the lottery is fairly representing players’ chances. “Clearly the odds favor us,” he says. “That’s what gambling establishments are about, but we believe we’ve been honest in representing what they are.”

Roberts wasn’t around when the lottery introduced video poker and the auto-hold feature in 1992. “Our assumption has always been that on balance people who play auto-hold do better than people who don’t,” he says. “We don’t tell people that.”

He rejects Curzi’s allegation the lottery is intentionally misleading players. “I don’t think we’ve ever represented that the auto-hold gives you the optimal result,” he says. “The idea was that it gives you a good result.”

But records Curzi turned up show the opposite. “The machine recommends the best possible cards to hold in order for the player to win and if the player changes the cards to be held, the possibility of winning will decrease,” the Sept. 15, 2009, memo marked “confidential” reads.

Today, the lottery is in the process of replacing all 12,000 video lottery terminals in the state; it’s a routine technology update. But one consequence of the upgrade is that Oregon is completely phasing out the WMS Gaming “Bluebird” terminal on which Curzi played Jacks or Better. Roberts says Jacks or Better is being phased out because it’s unpopular with players. Roberts says the lottery is interested in finding out if more players are concerned about auto-hold.

“It gets complicated in the middle of litigation,” he says. “Any actions that we take might be interpreted as an admission that we don’t mean to say.”

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Experts on lotteries and the law say Curzi’s odds of winning in court seem low. Rob Carey, an Arizona class-action lawyer, took on several state lotteries over the deceptive practice of selling scratch-off tickets after the top prizes had already been awarded. Carey never succeeded in getting a class established for his lawsuits, but he did win payments for some plaintiffs and forced changes in state lottery practices.

He says Curzi’s case hinges on whether the Oregon Lottery’s public disclosures were adequate. “It really depends on what they’re telling the players,” Carey says.

The lottery could be safe even if the disclosures are vague. “You have to show the intent to defraud,” says I. Nelson Rose, a law professor at Whittier Law School in Southern California. “I don’t think they’ll be able to do that.”

Rose says it’s the machines’ manufacturers that should be worried.  “If the plaintiff were able to prove this was intentional,” he says, “that supplier could end up paying.”

Nevada-based Scientific Games, owner of WMS Gaming, the maker of the Jacks or Better game Curzi played, declined to answer WW‘s questions. “It is company policy not to comment on ongoing litigation,” Scientific Games spokeswoman Mollie Cole said in an email.

Curzi is undaunted. He wants players to recoup their money. He wants the lottery’s auto-hold feature to give good advice, and he wants the agency to give players honest information.

“It goes all the way back to that first photo,” he says of the photo he took of the video poker machine’s bum recommendation at Quimby’s last year. “I look at it and say, ‘That’s not right.”  .   .   .   .   .

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My own thoughts about The Oregon Lottery and the Retail places available everywhere? I had gotten hooked and was just one of several places around my town I gambled at. So when there IS “Excess to Access” you CAN become addicted.” Learn from my dear friend Ronda Hatefi and her brother’s suicide because of his Gambling Addiction & Could Not Stop!   “LET’S TALK ABOUT IT!”

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IF YOU NEED HELP From Gambling? Please Call TODAY .  .  .  .

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In Oregon:  call 1-877-MY-LIMIT (695-4648).
National Hotline:  call  1-800-522-4700 all days and hours for resources and referrals.
National Suicide Hotline: call Call  1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day.
For Family Help:  Gam-Anon: Family and friends of problem gamblers can find resources and a list of meetings at gam-anon.org or 718-352-1671.

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Author & In Recovery Magzine Columnist & Recovering Addicted Gambler 9-years 9months,
Catherine Townsend-Lyon