Gambling Addiction: The Rush Of Winning. The Crush Of Losing It All.

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Chasing the rush and hitting that one big payday consumed Tim daily as he went time after time to play slots at the Mazatzal Casino.

Tim, who requested that his last name not be used, is one of many people in the Rim Country who became addicted to gambling.

He said he would pick up his weekly paycheck on Friday and by that night had gambled away the whole amount. If, by chance, he won money on Friday night, he would be back at the casino on Saturday.

"A lot of times you are chasing the rush," he said. Even when he was winning it was hard to stop because he knew nothing that could replace that feeling.

Like most compulsive gamblers, Tim started small before it grew to amounts he could not afford.

He said he knew he had to admit his problem when he was arrested for theft. He was stealing to fund his addiction.

"That was my bottom -- going to jail," he said. "I knew I needed to get some help."

The four stages a compulsive gambler like Tim goes through are winning, losing, desperation and hopelessness.

Tim did not play the card games because the payoff was not as big as the slot machines. Slots, he said, offered the biggest bang for the buck where a 50-cent bet could result in winning thousands.

Early on in his gambling career, Tim won $1,200 and left the casino that night with $900.

Most people would have been happy with the windfall, but Tim said he thinks he would have been better off if he had left as a loser that day.

"That was it for me," he said. He started gambling more and more, always remembering the big jackpot he once won.

He said winning a large amount empowered him to move to a more expensive machine with bigger rewards.

"I got to the point that even if I won $1,000, I could not leave with it," he said.

Tim said he sat in front of slot machines and put in $500 or $600 in a night without winning anything.

"I withdrew and lost all contact with my family and friends," he said. He would gamble away his earnings before paying bills.

"It was a vicious cycle. I was hating it," he said. "The trigger was winning the big money."

He said he would work all week and lose every penny in 30 minutes at the casino.

Tim started borrowing money to pay his bills and started to "borrow" from his employer without him knowing about it.

He conceded it was actually theft, and added he was a little glad when he was finally caught.

Toward the end of his compulsive gambling days, Tim was gambling in hopes of catching up on his loans and debts.

He said he moved to Payson from the Valley to get away from his two addictions -- methamphetamines and gambling, but realized the two were just as prominent in Payson.

A way out

There are ways to help the compulsive gambler who cannot stop.

In the state of Arizona, residents can self-exclude themselves, which effectively bars them from any Indian casino in the state.

Farrell Thompson, marketing coordinator for the Mazatzal Casino, said more than a thousand people have placed themselves on this list.

Tim is one of those thousand.

He said if he really wanted to gamble at the casino he could probably disguise himself to get in.

However, if he were to win a jackpot, he would not be allowed to claim it and could be arrested for trespassing.

He said not being allowed to claim a jackpot if winning one is a huge deterrent.

Thompson said the self-exclusion rule was part of an Indian gaming compact signed in 2000.

"Anyone who thinks they are gambling too much can file a request for self-exclusion," Thompson said. The self-exclusion can be for one year, five years and 10 years. People can also petition to be removed from the list, though it is difficult.

He said the employees at the Payson casino pretty much know the locals who are on the self-exclusion list, but the people who are not locals are tougher to identify.

He said if a person on the list hits a jackpot, the casino will hold the winnings, eventually donating it to a charity.

Temptation

Tim stopped gambling in March, and said there was a lot of temptation to go back to the casino for a few weeks.

"You have to be able to look at the bad sides and what it had done to you," he said.

He said he probably would have slipped if he did not have the support of his girlfriend and a local therapy group for people with gambling addictions.

Tim joined the therapy group, headed by Dr. Donna Steckal, a licensed psychologist, who offers counseling services on mental health and addictive behavior.

Three to 4 percent of the population, according to statistics, has some sort of a gambling addiction.

Steckal, while agreeing that Payson residents can easily gamble at the Mazatzal Casino, said many instead are going online to gamble.

Am I addicted to gambling?

Steckal said there are two simple questions that can be asked to gauge whether a person has a compulsive gambling problem.

  • Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money?
  • Have you ever had to lie to people important to you about how much you gambled?

She said a "yes" to either question should be an eye opener for any compulsive gambler.

Thompson said the casino, like most other ones, count on the customers to police themselves, as they are the ones who know what they can and cannot afford.

There is information in the casinos that will inform customers of available help as well as a posted 800-telephone number.

Thompson said if employees see someone who may be in trouble, they will approach them with cards and brochures, but added the final decision has to be made by the customer.

Struggle for seniors

Steckal said the problem seems to be affecting seniors more than the general public.

According to statistics, 25 percent of all compulsive gamblers are at least 55 years old compared to the 3 percent for all other age groups.

Statistics also reveal 24 percent of those in Arizona state-funded gambling treatment programs are at least 55 years of age and another 23 percent of people in this age group in treatment programs had declared bankruptcy.

Where to turn

Steckal said there is help for gambling addicts. The Arizona Lottery and the Indian tribes fund treatment for the disorder.

There is a way to block Internet gambling with GamBlock, which is designed to block access to online gambling.

Simple things like adding GamBlock to your computer can hasten the recovery for addicts.

"You have to retrain your brain and stay away from triggers," she said.

A minimum of six months of abstinence is required before one can totally retrain your brain, Steckal said.

Tim stopped gambling in March after hitting rock bottom. Another person Steckal sees went to the gaming town of Laughlin, Nev. with family after six months. She thought she could handle the addiction, but ended up relapsing.

"Gambling has been compared to a cocaine high. They call it a rush," Steckal said. "Gambling becomes more important than work, family or careers." There are cases where compulsive gamblers get upset if they have to use the bathroom, because it takes away some of their gambling time.

Signs of addiction

Steckal said there are signs that people can watch out for, including:

  • Borrowing large sums of money
  • Boasts of winning when gambling
  • Owning gambling paraphernalia
  • Mood swings
  • Hates talking about money

She said a big motivator to encourage people to stop betting is getting the family involved.

Tim said that is what has helped him in his recovery. During his later gambling days he was hoping for a win so he could pay off the debts he accumulated by gambling, but kept getting deeper and deeper into debt.

Statistics reveal that two-thirds of all compulsive gamblers will consider a crime to fund their addiction, while another 20 percent ponder suicide.

"It doesn't get better. It gets worse over time without help," she said. "They lose money, and they go back to reclaim the money they lost the next day."

People who think they have a gambling problem can call Steckal at (928) 978-3299 or (928) 474-4898; or contact the Arizona Office of Problem Gambling at 1-800-NEXT-STEP, or visit the Web site problemgambling.az.gov.

-- To reach Michael Maresh call 474-5251 ext. 112 or e-mail mmaresh@payson.com.

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