By day she was a senior professor at a respected research university. Her nights were spent getting high on her drug of choice - slot machines. Sandra Adell got “caught up in the madness of throwing away money doing an absolutely mindless and unproductive activity.”
After a $1000 payout on her first visit to a casino, called an “early win,” the slots continued to seduce her, wooing her with excitement and a dopamine rush, as she gambled away her money and self-respect chasing her losses.
“I was engaging in an activity that I disliked and that I knew was about to destroy my life,” yet she had no control. It’s all she thought about and wanted to do, and she distanced herself from friends and family pursuing her new love.
All typical behaviours of a pathological gambler and it can happen to anyone, says Adell, author of Confessions of a Slot Machine Queen, which examines her spiral into gambling hell and the potential dangers of the casino gambling industry.
Problem gambling can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race or social status, and according to Adell, a University of Wisconsin literature professor, women are becoming the fastest growing population of casino gambling addicts. Many are escape gamblers, looking to distract themselves from personal problems by playing the slots or bingo.
Glamorized, normalized and aggressively marketed, the growing variety of games and availability influence the acceleration of problem gambling. “It has become a favourite daytime activity for seniors, gambling among females is on the rise and gambling among youth ages 12 to 25 has grown considerably,” says gambling expert Lori Mello.
Whatever the population, the reasons are still the same, says Mello, program manager for gambling treatment at hmsanet.com. “They are trying to fill the hole in their lives, escape from problems or they want to feel that rush of excitement that everyday life doesn’t bring them.”
It provides a sense of power and control and having a mastery over life, says Mello. “Remember, it’s about the rush or the thrill or the escape – never about the money.”
Gambling is big business in Canada, providing huge revenues for investors and governments, and while most adults gamble responsibly, that’s the pool from which problem gamblers surface. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians are estimated to have problems with gambling, reports Problem Gambling in Canada, by Lorne Tepperman and Kristy Wanner. “Roughly one Canadian adult gambler in 20 has a current or prospective gambling problem.”
GTA resident Catherine Roberts goes to the casino once a month for entertainment. She sets aside $100 and ďI only gamble with money I can afford to lose,Ē says the 75-year-old widow, who adds that sheís sees a growing number of seniors taking up gambling. Her last visit netted her a $1200 win and the month before she hit an $800 jackpot at the slots. ďIíve gone home empty handed and thatís okay too. Itís just fun to get out. Iíd probably start losing if I went too often or took it too seriously.Ē
According to Dr. Robert Williams, the first few times you engage in the activity, the odds of winning at many types of gambling are pretty good. “However, over the long run, the odds catch up with you and there is no chance of winning. Your only choice is how quickly you wish to lose your money, which will vary as a function of what type of gambling you engage in.”
Red flags of problem gambling according to Lori Mello, program manager for gambling treatment at hmsanet.com:
- Are you spending more than you can afford to lose?
- Are you spending more time than you had planned gambling?
- Are you increasing your frequency of visits to the casino?
- Are you increasing the amount of money you are spending on playing the numbers or buying lottery tickets or scratch-offs?
- Are you spending your entire retirement, social security or pay cheque in on sitting?
- When you lose, do you often go back the next day to try to “win it back?” That is called chasing your losses.
- Is gambling taking time away from your work, school, family and/or friends and activities?
- Are you lying about your wins and losses?