Dear Friends,
The two columns I wrote about the explosion in gambling generated quite a few responses from you. (You can read the column here and here.) The interesting thing is that they generally fell into one of two categories: those that are adamantly against gambling or those that feel it’s a free country and if adults choose to gamble, they ought to be allowed to do so.

Many thanks to those who took the time to write. I’m running Laurel’s letter first because it brings the gambling issue down to a very personal — and heartbreaking — level.

Gail:

Your article really hit home. My mother is a compulsive gambler and has lost everything my parents had. They had to declare bankruptcy to get rid of their debts. The credit card companies twice sent my mother credit cards — which she activated and used to their limit both times. Now I say shame on the credit card companies. My mother is 80 and will never be able to repay the cards because she has no assets. But it is an easy way for her to obtain money at 35 percent and above without worrying about paying anything but the minimum back each month.

In a casino she is a force to be reckoned with. She'll look for money on the floor, beg us for money and get angry when she is denied. This is my mother! It's so difficult to watch this. Needless to say I never take her and can't really make her understand why I dislike gambling so much.

My youngest son was also a compulsive gambler. He couldn't sit still when sports were on because he had bets going on so many teams at once. It was a mother's nightmare to watch. Nothing I said or did to help could make him help himself. I believe his habit eventually led to his death. He ended up obtaining the money he needed in other ways — unfortunately he dealt with the wrong person and became a victim of a homicide.

I know there is nothing I can do to stop this gambling phenomenon, but I hope our legislators see beyond the dollar signs and realize that for some people just having temptation close by is something they can't resist. Our government needs to stop making this habit such an easy one to indulge.

Thank you for such an insightful and honest article.

Laurel

Dear Laurel,

My heart goes out to you. I am so terribly sorry about the toll that gambling has taken on your family. And to think that your mother — your son’s grandmother — continues to gamble in spite of knowing that it probably led to her grandson’s murder! If that doesn't convince skeptics that, for some people, gambling is a disease, I don't know what will.

I’m assuming you've tried to get your mom into therapy. A number of organizations offer special services and treatments for senior citizens. But, as you point out, the compulsive gambler has to want help.

At the very least, consider consulting an attorney to see if your dad can protect himself financially and not end up destitute due to your mom's addiction.

Please take care of yourself,

Gail

My thanks to two financial planners who wrote me on this topic:

Dear Gail,

Please, Please, PLEASE continue your stories about not only problem gambling, but also what happens to the "winners". There are so many stories out there of people who won big jackpots who then ended up worse off than when they began.

Their stories include: losing friends or having strained relationships with friends; having children kidnapped for ransom; being harassed by strangers who pretend they are "Long Lost _____" begging for money; personal bankruptcy after they have frittered away their prize and overextended themselves; the list goes on.

Please get the message out. I work as a retirement planning counselor, and SO MANY people are not saving what they ought for retirement, but have no problem gambling the same money away.

Michael

Hi —

You are right on, Gail. The alarming fact is that states sponsor the addiction knowing that there always are higher costs with this problem.

There is no realistic reason why a state should be involved in promoting an industry which has so many negative impacts -and they know it ahead of time. Prostitution and other crimes are only two of the other negative results bred by Gambling.

When the State of Ohio was considering implementing a lottery they promised that the profits would go to schools. It did, but then they reduced the amount the state was putting into education.

Thanks,

Moses — retired financial planner

Gail,

Your story on gambling is useless. If people want to gamble, they should be able to. There is always some people who do too much of something, that then affects them negatively. That is ok. They are responsible for themselves. Some people eat too much salt. Bad for high blood pressure, and could kill them! SALT SHOULD BE BANNED!

In the USA, people are free to fail. Let them be.

Tom

Dear Tom

I understand the point you are trying to make, however, there is a big hole in your analogy: the government does not run ads encouraging people to eat salt! In contrast, states that sponsor lotteries actively promote them and those that have legalized casinos collect millions of dollar in taxes based on the business generated.

If compulsive gamblers only hurt themselves, your argument might be more persuasive.

Go back and re-read Laurel’s letter.

As I pointed out in both articles, objective research confirms there are social ramifications caused by a minority — about 7 percent of gamblers who become addicted to the activity. It destroys families, careers, and costs other taxpayers-you and me — millions of dollars in terms of the added burden to the legal and penal systems.

Compulsive gamblers come from all walks of life. They have families, jobs, they may hold influential positions in their community. They are not "bad" people. They have a disease. Is it fair that the children of a compulsive gambler pay the consequences because a parent is "free to fail"? Although freedom is one hallmark of our society, another is compassion for those less fortunate- including those who are sick.

My view is that if states are going to benefit from gambling, they ought to: 1) Acknowledge that this is not a benign activity. There’s more to it than "Play Lotto! Support our schools!" There are also negative consequences to gambling for some people. 2) Provide publicly-funded help for this minority.

Think it over,

Gail

Dear Gail Buckner:

In your Oct. 9 column on gambling, you appeared to assume that government has some sort of duty to do something (i.e., "help") problem gamblers. Why? What am I, the property of the State, Big Brother's keeper, that Uncle Sam *must* interfere with my life? If I have a personal problem *of any sort*, be it drinking, gambling, overeating, addiction to Fox News, or whatever, it's my problem and I should be able to find my own solution, not be ordered about by a paternalistic government which almost always finds the most expensive and least effective way to do things.

William

Dear William,

Please see my response to Tom (above).

I don’t want any more government involvement in my life than you do. But like it or not, the government does step in and "interfere" when an individual’s behavior threatens others. Are you suggesting that drunk drivers should not be taken off the road?

Because the victims of compulsive gamblers are usually family members, there is less publicity about the consequences. Divorce, bankruptcy, family violence, and shame don’t make the news. But they leave lasting marks on those close to the gambling addict.

And they cost all of us money. If someone declares bankruptcy and walks away from tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, that cost gets passed along in the form of higher interest rates for everyone else who uses a credit card.

I am not suggesting that there be a government-mandated program to treat compulsive gamblers. First of all, it wouldn’t work. Anyone with knowledge about addiction — of any type — knows that you can't "make" someone get well. The addict has to want to change.

I’m simply suggesting is that states that generate a lot of revenue from legalized gambling should use some of that money to fund, at the very least, a hotline for compulsive gamblers. And, you’re right, often this type of service is best provided by the private sector.

Pennsylvania, which has just approved slot machines for designated locations, is funding a hotline and counseling referral network to the tune of $100,000/year. That’s a lot more than most states do. However, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the state will collect in taxes from the additional slots and a lot less than it would cost to prosecute and perhaps incarcerate a single individual who commits insurance fraud or bankrupts their family in order to cover their gambling debts.

While we enjoy wonderful freedoms in this country, they are not "absolute." Take freedom of speech. When it endangers others, the courts have ruled that there are limits to this. Yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre can land you in jail because your "right" to say what you want is less important than the safety of others.

Thanks for writing,

Gail

Hello—

As a Professor of Business I occasionally have students do papers on gambling. Most find it a fun, harmless diversion. But the 7+ percent who are addicted are reason enough to not have gambling legal. Not to mention that all that money could be used for much better things (education and teacher salaries??!!) or saving for retirement, etc. And we have to way to know how much will end up in the pockets of organized crime or other unsavory character's pockets.

Sorry, I don't believe it is harmless. There is always the danger of addiction, sooner or later, and the tremendous waste. One of my former clients (I was a stockbroker) told me her parents spend 1/3 of their social security money on C.D.s at the bank, 1/3 for living expenses, and 1/3 for gambling here in Des Moines, Iowa. Her mom won $25,000 and an SUV one night at the casino.

Her mom's private comment when she got home? "I broke even tonight."

I'm proud to be a Utah native and hope they don't succumb to gambling like almost every other state!

Regards,

Prof. Kerry G.

Gail,

Money! The government makes billions from gambling. That's why it's legal. If the government could make money off prostitution it would be legal.

I have become a victim of gambling. I have won over $250,000 in my local casino in two years, not bad. But that is how they "hook" you. Then it's lose, lose, lose. And lose I did.

After losing over $90,000 in 1 1/2 years I decided to call it quits. It was very hard to do. The government is responsible for this social disease!! If the casinos did not exist than we wouldn't have a problem. Leave Vegas in Vegas!!

Hawk

Gail,

This was an outstanding piece: well-researched, good data, well written and without malice. This yet again underlines a recently exploding philosophy in the United States of "something for nothing." My profession is about to vanish because of this attitude. our report gives some idea of who gambles the most in this country. My suspicion is that this "fun loving group" probably does not like to see their money go towards their health care either.

The data speaks for itself: A $65 billion/year industry! How could some of this be diverted back to the health care problems it creates, like the tobacco industry?

R. C. King, M.D.

Dear Dr. King —

Nevada, which makes more money from legalized gambling than any other state, does not spend a dime of taxpayer money on the state gambling hotline. It is entirely funded by the casinos and related companies that benefit from gambling- hotels, restaurants, etc.

Imagine the kind of health care system this country could support if a fraction of the money spent on gambling were funneled into medical services!

Take care,

Gail

Gail,

One of the best articles I’ve read about gambling! Your common-sense questions, plain talk, and compelling statistics make for a very persuasive case against what I too believe is a very serious problem in our country. There just aren’t enough articles like this to combat all the deceit on the other side. Thank you for taking a stand in such an appropriate way.

David

Dear Gail,

Liked the article but would liked to have had more from the perspective of WHO is behind the drive to make America a nation of more gamblers. The problems don't START with the kids but with the intent of those who want the industry to grow and how responsible they are to their customers.

Pat

Several of you wrote in response to my question about what they get out of gambling. Top three answers: Personal satisfaction. Intellectual challenge. Amusement.

Gail,

You're making a mistake that nearly all writers about "gambling" make. And that is failing to make a distinction between casino-style gambling, in which it is a mathematical impossibility to win over the long term, and other forms of gambling, in which winning or losing are both possible.

I have gambled several times a week for one year, and my winnings provided about a third of my mid six-figure income this year. This is primarily what I get out of it: Money. The game I gamble on is poker. Poker is a gambling game, but it also includes elements of skill, and players with a superior understanding of the game get the money in the long term. It is a hard-won skill like any other, and requires patient hours of study and practice.

There is such a thing as a winning gambler.

Sincerely,

Robert

Dear Robert —

Congratulations on beating the odds — for now. If you read my columns, you’ll find that the focus is on slot machines, which are much more addictive than card games.

However, I would wager (!) that if most people made money at table games (poker, craps, blackjack), casinos would stop offering them.

Gail

Gail —

I am a 33-year-old male who enjoys gambling on occasion, usually about 8 days over the course of a year. I currently live in Egypt where the major hotels (much to my surprise) have casinos. Egyptian citizens are not allowed to enter them, though many other Muslim Arabs do. I mention this to show I have daily access and to emphasize the global reach of organized legal gambling.

I enjoy playing blackjack. I have researched the subject as it interests me and I know all the odds favor the house but these can be reduced. I cannot count cards. I enjoy employing a betting and card strategy. I have fair success over time. What I have discovered is that like life, gambling is about collecting information and making decisions, especially at blackjack.

I don't think I have a gambling problem but I can see how others can allow themselves to become addicted. For me it’s the immediate vindication or rejection of my decision (with the prospect of reward thrown in.)

The juggernaut that legal gambling has become is frightening and I think the industry/government puts a shiny happy face on something that for many people is tragic. It is not a family sport.

Andrew

Hi, Andrew-

Sounds like you’re among the 93 percent of gamblers who have a healthy attitude about it and keep it in perspective. Thanks for your "international" input!

Gail

Hello,

You didn't touch on the possibility of the satisfaction of a mental challenge fueling the gambling boom and I just wanted to introduce that thought.

I am in my early 40's and I have the fun job of writing for a horse racing paper. I am not there because of any formal education but rather as the result of a lifetime of studying and attending horse races. Just wanted to share that the central enjoyment I get from gambling is the mental challenge involved in deducing the winners of any horse race in the land.

Recently the media came out with a story that basically said: "Casino gamblers have longer life spans". That tale, although vague, was most surely the result of MINDS being challenged into and throughout old age.

I would also "vote" that the gambling tends to fill some small window where the "lack of excitement" in our lives otherwise dominates.

Mark

Hi, Mark-

I appreciate what you’re saying about some types of gambling offering a mental challenge.

There are essentially two types of gambling: games of "chance" — like slots — and games of "skill," such as card games, and, I suppose, horse racing. Andrew and Robert point out, to win at games of skill you have to become a "student" of the game, learning and perfecting strategy. So, by definition, games of skill are more mentally challenging than pulling the lever on a slot machine.

On the other hand, slots are attractive to some people — most people in fact — because of the excitement. It’s no accident they have all of those bells, flashing lights and other visual effects! (See Marilyn’s letter below.)

I wouldn’t jump to conclusions about the statistic that casino gamblers live longer. That same study (I believe you’re referring to the one underwritten by Harrah’s) also found that casino gamblers have higher incomes. My guess is that those higher incomes enable casino gamblers to afford better healthcare.

Take care,

Gail

Gail,

Thank you for your current article about gambling. I typically play slot machines once a week because of the closeness of Indian casinos to my home. I enjoy the video slots because they provide me with hours of entertainment. Many of the people around me who play them are over 50. We seem to be retired and have discretionary money to spend on amusement. I believe that since we can no longer play most sports or do physically demanding activities, this provides us with a relaxing form of entertainment.

Some people seem to bet large amounts and, win or lose, just keep throwing their money away waiting for the "big win." I've noticed that these people keep on playing after a big win and end up giving it back to the casino. On the other hand, I've seen many play small amounts at a time. They are tickled by the fun of "bonus screen" video slots and if they happen to win, they usually cash it in and put only a little of it back into the machines. For me, I allot a certain amount of money to spend. Some days I come home a winner and some days I end up paying them for the fun I've had.

Other things to consider are that there aren't many movies or good plays worth seeing lately. We don't go to ballparks as much because the tickets alone cost more than what we spend at casinos. We don't drive at night because of vision deterioration. Casinos around here provide buses to bring us to and from their establishments — smart move on their part. Our options for entertainment are limited. Restaurants are very expensive, but have you noticed that casinos always have buffets? I think it's because they know many of us want fairly good food and choices for our meals and they keep prices affordable.

It's a beautiful day and I'm going to take a walk now. I enjoyed sharing my views with you.

Marilyn

Dear Marilyn,

Thanks for your letter. You bring up a number of excellent points about why slot machines are particularly attractive to seniors who, for the most part, find a trip to the casino to be a fun experience.

Hope you enjoyed your walk!

Gail

Dear Ms. Buckner:

Gambling is becoming more common just since I was a child as there is no religious prohibition against it like there once was in the mainline protestant churches.

Luckily, I have NO interest in it, but my husband of 38 years now buys the "Mega-Millions" chance every week! Why? I'm not sure, but I think it may have to do with what you so interestingly mentioned about retirement. We are just a few years away and have been saving like mad with an excellent income, almost NO debt including a mortgage, but with health care concerns (we are healthy — for now, but who knows in the future). Our parents never worried as they were guarantied a "defined pension benefit" which our generation and the ones to follow will never know. And how anyone can invest for double-digit inflation against health care is a mystery to me.

Sincerely,

Linda

Dear Linda —

Congratulations on entering retirement without a mortgage or any other debt! As long as your husband isn’t spending money you need for necessities — including health insurance — I wouldn’t get too worried about his weekly lottery tickets.

Best wishes,

Gail

Dear Gail,

Good article as usual. You might already know but here in Nebraska we are being inundated with ads for the upcoming Nov. 2 vote on bringing casino gambling to Nebraska (we have it right across the river in Iowa.) Somebody is spending a lot of money trying to push this agenda. And as per usual they present their case as the state will bring in huge sums of extra tax money (for children, firemen and blind salesmen.) The anti-gambling movement seems to have less resources.

I hope there is a change coming. Thanks,

Chris

(Nebraska voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal by state legislators to allow casino gambling.)

Dear Gail —

I appreciate that you are paying some attention to the spread of gambling across the country.

Would you try to find and mention organized efforts to halt or diminish this spread? And efforts that highlight the damage this promotion of gambling for easy tax revenue does to our socially and our families?

James

(California voters overwhelmingly rejected both Proposition 68, which would have expanded casino gambling beyond Indian reservations, and Proposition 70, which would have dictated how the state could tax Indian Tribes on the casino revenues.)

Dear James and Chris

Please see below

Gail

Gail,

Your article was interesting and informative in many ways, but you get a rather tepid objection to gambling from the National Council on Problem Gambling. Most of their revenue comes from the gambling "industry." They, and most of their state affiliates, praise the gambling "industry" for their generosity in funding treatment of compulsive gamblers, and very seldom say anything critical of the predators themselves.

I hope your next article takes some measure from those who truly investigate the damage that has been done, and is still going on as a result of the massive gambling expansion in the U.S. Access to those resources can be found on the website for the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling at: http://www.ncalg.org

Cordially,

Dr. Guy C. Clark,

Chairman

National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling

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