Arnie Wexler Statement
Statement by Arnie Wexler to the National Gambling Impact and Study Commission, Atlantic City, New Jersey
January 22, 1998
I would like to thank the Commission for extending an invitation for me to address you on the subject of compulsive gambling.
My name is Arnie Wexler and I have been the President of Arnie and Sheila Wexler Associates since 1994. We do trainings, educational seminars, consultations, evaluations and treatment services for, and about compulsive gambling. I am a recovering compulsive gambler and placed my last bet on April 10, 1968 and know what kind of destruction compulsive gambling can do to the compulsive gambler, their family and everyone else they come in contact with. I think it is important to state that I am not a prohibitionist. My only objective is to help compulsive gamblers and their families.
I have been involved in trying to raise public awareness on this issue for over 29 years. In 1972 I became a member of the Board of Directors of the National Council on Compulsive Gambling. I served in this capacity until 1991. From 1986-94 I was the Executive Director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey. I believe that I have spoken to more compulsive gamblers than anyone else in America during the last 29 years.
Thirty years ago, this month, I was in what is referred to as the Desperation Phase of Compulsive Gambling. I was 30 years old, married with 2 children. I was in debt for the amount of three times my annual salary. I owed two finance companies, three banks, loan sharks and bookmakers and family, friends and co- workers for a total of thirty-two people. I had just written a check to a stock brokerage firm for $4400.00 (to purchase stocks) and all I had was $10 in my account. I thought about suicide on a daily basis, but never had enough guts to carry it out. I was a plant manager for a Fortune 500 company, supervising 300 people and committing illegal acts to support my gambling addiction. Even in this phase I came to work every day in a suit and tie since my addiction was not visible to the untrained eye.
My experience is not unique. Most compulsive gamblers have similar tales to tell. They have lost relationships, careers, and educational pursuits. Their obsession to gamble is all encompassing and they are unable to think about anything else in life, even though they may still appear to be functioning normally. Most of their waking hours are spent in trying to find the money with which to place another bet. Many at this stage of their addiction are committing illegal acts to support their gambling. A large percentage of embezzlements and white collar crimes are caused by compulsive gamblers. It is not unusual to see major corporations being ripped off by their employees who need money to gamble. This especially effects brokerage firms, banks and insurance companies and lawyers who dip into their trust funds.
The American Psychiatric Association recognizes a diagnosis of Pathological Gambling since 1980. Dr. Bob Custer (the founder of compulsive gambling treatment) once described compulsive gamblers in the Desperation Phase as people who had lost all hope, were severely depressed, felt helpless and alone. It is at this stage that many gamblers feel that the only way out is suicide.
As my wife and I have traveled the country we have met hundreds of people who were brought to their knees as the result of compulsive gambling. Some had lost their family farms and businesses in places like North Dakota and Minnesota. Others talked about embezzlements or white collar crimes by employees who had a gambling problem. In Mississippi, we heard about suicides and bank robberies that were occurring from the time that legalized gambling began in their state. There is a woman in Louisiana who killed her parents in order to collect insurance money so she could continue playing video poker. I remember the call from a 14 year old girl, who was selling drugs in order to support her gambling addiction, and the 19 year old who was selling her body. I remember working with a major league baseball player who made $800,000 and couldn’t pay a gambling debt of $25,000. There is an ex Quarterback who played in the NFL, who is now incarcerated because of writing bad checks in order to support his gambling addiction. I know of many cases of people who are in federal prison because of a gambling addiction. Just a few weeks ago, I received a call from a woman who told me about her father who lost $7 million in the commodity market.
In April of 1997, in Bridge City, Louisiana, a young woman who was baby- sitting a 2 year old boy, left him locked in her van while she played video poker. When she returned to her van after several hours, the boy was comatose and was rushed to a hospital. He died the next day. In August of 1997, I heard about a Sgt. in the US Army, from Hunter Army Airfield, in Savannah, Georgia, who left her 10 week old infant in the car while she played video poker for 7 and 1/2 hours straight. The baby was found dead.
There is a man on death row in New Jersey because he contracted to have his wife killed in order to collect on her 1.5 million dollar life insurance. At the time he was in debt due to gambling.
I recently came across one of the most horrifying stories I had ever read. It was about a 19 year old college student from New York, who couldn’t cope with a gambling debt of $6000(betting on the world series). He purchased a toy gun and led police on a car chase. When approached he pulled his toy gun and was killed by the unsuspecting police officer. He left suicide notes to his family and to the policeman. The classic case of a suicide is the case of a Somerset County Prosecutor in NJ who embezzled money for gambling from his partners in a business venture and was to be sentenced for his crime when he fled the state of New Jersey. He ended up in a Nevada hotel where he shot himself to death. His wife is now serving 27 months in prison charged as an accomplice( and probably didn’t even understand that her husband was a compulsive gambler). Eighteen months ago a well-known Hollywood name committed suicide. The truth is this man killed himself because he was a compulsive gambler.
In my opinion, even one suicide due to compulsive gambling is too many. I have personally known more than a dozen compulsive gamblers who have resorted to suicide and know many more who have attempted suicide. Statistics may be low in assessing suicides in gambling towns due to the fact that many people return to their hometowns before committing the act.
Compulsive gambling is cutting across all segments of society, today in America. I have spoken in many colleges over the years and found a very large percentage of students are gambling both legally, and illegally. More than 10% already have a gambling problem. I’ve dealt with many students and student athletes who have had a gambling problem, including relatives who paid off large amounts of gambling debts. There has been a tremendous rise in the numbers of young people seeking help in the last few years. I think it would be very educational for every Commissioner to read the three part series in Sports Illustrated on “The Campus Gambling Epidemic”, dated April 3, 10 and 17th of 1995.
Senior citizens are another segment of the population who are reporting a considerable increase in problem gambling. There are countless sad stories about people in this age group becoming addicted to various forms of gambling in their golden years.
Female gamblers are coming out of the woodwork, reporting a compulsive gambling problem. There are more female compulsive gamblers seeking help, today, than ever before in the history of this country. In fact, when I was on the Oprah Winfrey show we received almost 7000 calls in the following week, and more than 65% of those calls were from females. Many of these callers spoke of personal problems resulting from bingo and lottery playing.
This country is exploding with a major compulsive gambling epidemic. There are more active compulsive gamblers in this country today, than ever before in our history. State Legislators are constantly adding more legalized gambling opportunities without even addressing those constituents who are, or will become, compulsive gamblers. State lotteries alone, do more than $40 billion a year in sales. States are spending millions to advertise and promote lotteries. You see TV ads where a Governor holds up lottery tickets and tells the citizens of their state to buy lottery tickets in order to help the state. Can you imagine the uproar if a Governor went on TV and held up a bottle of alcohol telling the citizens to buy alcohol because the state makes money from the sale?
For years people were going to jail for running illegal numbers in the streets and today the states are running the same type of operations except it is now legal because the state gets a percentage of the money.
How many times have you been in a convenience store and watched a parent rub off lottery tickets in front of their young child? What kind of message are we sending our youth? Are we telling them that they don’t need to pursue an education, but rather aspire to winning the lottery?
For years I’ve heard State Legislators and Lottery Commissioners deny that compulsive gamblers have problems with playing the lottery. Lotteries are enticing people to buy lottery tickets. It’s very easy for a youngster to purchase a lottery ticket. It might be easier than buying a can of beer or a pack of cigarettes. It’s unlikely that you’ve ever heard of a vendor losing their lottery machine as a result of selling a ticket to a minor?
If the states really cared about their citizens they would cap the prize at $1million, so more people could win. However, they like the big jackpots because they know that people tend to spend more than they intended to in order to win them. I remember getting a call from a daughter whose father (age 72) owed $140,000 due exclusively to gambling on the lottery. I’ve heard from many lottery players, over the years, who have embezzled money to finance their lottery gambling.
Another form of gambling that is often overlooked is the Stock Market. Many compulsive gamblers get involved in this form of gambling. In 1987 when the market went down approximately 500 points, 44% of all the hot line calls coming in for the next two weeks, were from people who had destroyed themselves in the Stock Market. Stock brokers who are compulsive gamblers are churning clients’ accounts to get money for the gambling addiction. I’ve worked with brokers who have embezzled money from their firms and clients. In many cases the firm is reluctant to fire them because they have generated huge commissions. They are also reluctant to press charges because they want to avoid media coverage.
Sports betting is another very interesting phenomenon. You can only place a legal bet on sports in the state of Nevada. Yet most of the newspapers in America carry the odds and lines in their sports sections. What about the “800” and “900” ads that are run in newspapers by the so called “handicappers” who sell information on who to bet on? Lately, I’ve been hearing ads on radio and on cable TV about sports betting over the phone to place a bet out of the country. I believe Federal Law 1084 and 1304 prohibits transmission of wagering information. In three more days, the country will be facing its biggest 1-day gambling event of the year. For some people, the Super Bowl Sunday, is just another day. For the compulsive gambler, the Super Bowl is what New Year’s Eve is to the alcoholic. (During the 1997 Super Bowl, 80 million dollars was wagered legally in Las Vegas.)
You can see how much sports betting is really going on by sitting at a sporting event when the home team is winning yet many fans are booing because the spread has not been covered.
Although compulsive gamblers are known to gamble on almost any form of gambling, many prefer casino type gambling because it is fast action. I have serious concerns about underage gambling, how free drinks are handled and policies regarding markers and credit. When casinos offer “comps” to a compulsive gambler they fuel their fantasy and sometimes push the compulsive gambler over the edge.
From Memphis we heard about the widow, with two young daughters, whose husband committed suicide as the result of compulsive gambling. He was allowed to continue to gamble in a casino in Tunica, Mississippi, even though the checks he kept writing were bouncing. After his suicide, his widow sued the casino but they filed bankruptcy. A man I know had a $500,000 credit line increased as a TTO to $1million and eventually ended up owing casinos $2.5 million that he could not pay due to compulsive gambling. A woman who was earning $14,000 a year, working in a super market ended up owing $90,000 in markers to casinos.
We know that casino workers are at greater risk for compulsive gambling problems. They like quick action jobs and would prefer to be around gambling activities. A casino worker (a few years ago) kidnapped a teenager and held him for ransom. He planned to use the money to help his family by continuing to gamble so he could win back the money he had lost. There was a casino employee who had himself barred from gambling due to his problem. Another worker sold her body on a consistent basis to high rollers to support her gambling addiction. A casino credit manager with a gambling problem, let a gambler with bad credit, sign markers in order to get a “kick back”.
A well-hidden fact is that there are slot machines on most Armed Forces Bases outside of the United States. These slot machines generate huge revenue that comes from Service personnel and dependents. I recently got a call from the mother and the wife of a soldier who had embezzled money because of his addiction to the slot machines. He is presently awaiting court Martial proceedings. The problem is so severe, that in May of last year, my wife and I were invited to give a presentaiton for the Air Force, at the Far East Addictions Conference, in Camp Zama, Japan.
Racetracks, which were a dying industry, are now on the upturn with simulcasting, off track betting, poker rooms and slot machines. What used to be a four hour event is now an all day (and sometimes all night) event. It’s a haven for compulsive gamblers.
When it comes to a discussion about treatment for compulsive gambling, it is a sad fact that there is so little available throughout this country. Gamblers Anonymous and Gamanon have offered much help to compulsive gamblers and their families for the past 40 years. They are located in most major cities and there is at least one chapter in every state. In recent years (due to the availability of gambling activities) many new chapters of GA and Gamanon have started. However, in many states, attendance requires a drive of several hours.
There are many gamblers and family members who require the additional services of professional counselors. As far as in patient treatment; there a few Veterans Hospitals that have units for compulsive gamblers and several facilities scattered across the country that specifically treat compulsive gambling. My wife was instrumental in starting the first in – patient treatment center right here in New Jersey called New Hope Foundation, that added gambling treatment to their already existing alcohol and drug treatment services in 1988. As of this writing, they are still the only in-patient facility in NJ. We trained the staff at Sierra Tucson, in Tucson Arizona ( a private treatment center) to add compulsive gambling treatment to their existing services. We continue to act as consultants to them in the area of compulsive gambling treatment. There are some states where there is out patient counseling available, but very few of either the out patient or in patient settings are funded by their states. Most of the available facilities are private, and unfortunately most insurance companies do not cover treatment for compulsive gambling. More often then not, the clinician needs to use an alternative diagnosis in order to receive payment from the insurance companies. Obviously when most gamblers are ready and/or willing to go to treatment, they have run out of finances( and so have most of their family members) that would afford them this needed help.
Many compulsive gamblers go undiagnosed. As we travel the country and train staff in alcohol and drug treatment centers, we observe that many of their patients/clients have a co-existing compulsive gambling problem. The percentages are as high as 25-30%. In a study done by UMDNJ (University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey) it was found that 22-26% of those patients being admitted to an out – patient mental health setting also had a compulsive gambling problem.
I see the gambling industry, today, where the cigarette industry was ten years ago. People in this country are beginning to recognize that there are some negative consequences to the gambling that has proliferated across America. I think that some people in the gambling industry are becoming aware of this attitude. As stated in an article written by a VP of Harrahs (Ralph Berry) in Casino Executive (September, 1997): “the public wants responsible gaming programs, and their elected officials are listening. Are we?……Americans have spoken loud and clear and they expect casino companies to do their part to discourage problem gambling.”(This is based on a survey done by Harrah’s that indicated that 78% of those questioned, agree that “casinos should be responsible for programs to discourage compulsive gamblers” and 85% said that “casino companies should have programs to combat underage gambling.”)
We now know that the existence of compulsive gambling is not just fiction, but fact. We may not know the exact numbers of people afflicted with this problem, but we know that it is millions of Americans. I think the time has come for the gambling industry and state legislators to take their heads out of the sand and address these crucial issues that affect peoples’ lives.
I believe that this Commission has the power to create policy that can help the millions of Americans and family members who are currently suffering from compulsive gambling, as well as those who will become compulsive gamblers in the future.
The following are recommendations that I am suggesting to the Commission:
- That any state, company or individual operating a gambling related business should be mandated to have a Responsible Gaming Policy. It is not sufficient, however, to have a policy written exclusively from within the company. It should be necessary to have input from qualified persons who have expertise on the subject of compulsive gambling and to use this expertise to develop a legitimate responsible gambling program. (Some Gaming operations already have policies in place but they may not have utilized qualified experts.)
- Over the last several years I have seen an open-mindedness in some Gaming companies to begin addressing the issue of compulsive gambling. We have worked with Carnival, Casino America, Aztar Riverboat (and other gaming corporations) and are currently employed as consultants to Trump Hotel and Casino Resorts. We have been working with them to implement a comprehensive Responsible Gaming Policy that is now in use.
- That anyone who works in the gaming field must have education on the subject of compulsive gambling.
- All gambling advertisements include a hot line number (such as 888-LAST BET).
- The Americans With Disabilities Act should include compulsive gambling.
- Insurance companies should be mandated to pay for treatment of compulsive gambling.
- All gaming companies should pay for compulsive gambling treatment for their employees and family members.
- Any state or municipality that receives revenue from gambling should be required to put a percentage of that revenue in a fund that would pay for treatment services, education, awareness and prevention regarding compulsive gambling.
- Health professionals should have training on the subject of compulsive gambling.
- Any new or expanded gaming legislation should include a component to deal with compulsive gambling issues.
- Anyone incarcerated for a crime related to compulsive gambling issues should receive education and treatment, while incarcerated. Gamblers Anonymous meetings should be made available.
Very few people in this country speak for, or about, compulsive gambling issues. Part of the problem is there is still shame and embarrassment even from recovering compulsive gamblers, and they lack resources to carry the message about this problem.
The time has come for elected officials in this country to stop ignoring compulsive gambling issues, as this is an issue that effects millions of Americans and their families. As a nation, we need to deal with it in the same manner as we deal with alcoholism and drug addiction.
Again, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to speak to you. I hope that what I have said will help you to better understand the seriousness of the problem of compulsive gambling.