The Compulsive Gambler Working in the Gaming Industry
The Gaming Law Review
by Arnie and Sheila Wexler
Many people, who work in the gaming industry, are vulnerable to problems with their own gambling behaviors. Some are naturally attracted to the action, because they already have a gambling problem. Some develop a problem after being exposed to the environment. Studies have shown that employees in gaming establishments (racetracks, casinos, lottery vendors, etc.) have a higher percentage of gambling problems than the general population. When Mickey Brown was the president of Foxwoods Casino, he urged his staff not to ” become one of the people you’ve seen across the table”. Mr. Brown estimated that “5-10% of Foxwoods employees have gambled more than they probably should, and more than just recreational”.
It is difficult to spot a compulsive gambler, because, unlike other addictions, it is a hidden and invisible disease. For millions of people, gambling offers a harmless and entertaining diversion from everyday life. Whether playing bingo or baccarat, these people are participating in a legitimate and time-honored recreational activity by taking a chance on an unpredictable event in the hope of winning. For others, however, the simple act of placing a bet is a vastly different experience. What seems a moment of elation or excitement for some gamblers is in reality a moment of overwhelming compulsion- a moment in which these people have lost the ability to control their gambling behavior. These individuals cannot resist the impulse to gamble- they are compulsive gamblers.
The American Psychiatric Association (since 1980) has defined the disorder using the following criteria:
Diagnostic criteria for 312.31 Pathological Gambling
Persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior as indicated by at least five of the following:
- Is preoccupied with gambling (e.g., preoccupied with reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble)
- Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement
- Has repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling
- Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
- Gambles as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, and depression)
- After losing money gambling, often returns another day in order to get even (“chasing” one’s losses)
- Lies to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling
- Has committed illegal acts, such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement, in order to finance gambling
- Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling
- Relies on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling
It is important to note that this is a treatable illness and a person can lead a productive life after finding help and recovery.
The American Medical Association adopted a resolution ( Resolution 430 in 1995) citing “the addictive potential of gambling”, suggesting that their member physicians “advise their patients of the addictive potential of gambling”.
When I was the Executive Director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of NJ, 8% of our calls to the hot line, came from casino employees. Since 1994, we have trained over 35,000 casino workers, nationwide. Raising the awareness of employees through training on the subject of compulsive gambling is sometimes the catalyst for the employee to seek help. Every time we do training, some workers, who have a gambling problem, themselves, or have a family member with the problem, approach us for help. Often we receive phone calls from employees, several months after they hear our presentation. Many of these people find it difficult to come forward with the problem, fearing that exposure will affect their chances for advancement with the company. Supervisors who recognize an employee who has a serious gambling problem also often approach us.
The problem exists at all levels of employment. Workers have approached us from housekeepers to executives of casino companies. There was a housekeeper who revealed that she stole items from guest’s rooms in order to support her gambling addiction. A casino limousine driver called us and was planning to kill himself as the result of his gambling problem. There was a pit boss that let dead-beat gamblers sign markers and then got a pay off from the gambler. A racetrack announcer called me for help after trying to fix races in order to get money to gamble with. We received a call for help from an employee on the hotel side, who was using customers’ credit cards to access gambling money for his gambling. A legal counsel to a casino company, asked for our help in getting him excluded from gambling in casinos in his state. A woman who worked in credit came forward to ask for help as she was in jeopardy of losing her marriage and children.
As the problem or compulsive gambler becomes more and more pre-occupied with their gambling they will eventually effect their company and their job performance. Some areas include erratic work performance, inconsiderate treatment of customers, borrowing money from coworkers or customers, absenteeism, tardiness, theft, embezzlement, affecting the integrity of the game they are dealing or by being coerced to fix games by bookmakers or loan sharks whom they may owe money to, and increased health care costs for them and their affected families.
It would be beneficial and good prudent, business judgment, if gaming companies helped their employees who had a gambling problem, rather than terminating them. Employees are their most valuable asset as they are often, in the front line with their customers Employers and supervisors need to realize that compulsive gambling is an addiction, similar to alcoholism and drug addiction.
Many companies already have health benefits that include treatment for other addictions. These benefits should also include treatment for compulsive gambling for employees and their families, paid for by the employer. Employers can also make available a room for an in house Gamblers Anonymous meeting. Human Resource and EAP personnel should have training on the subject of compulsive gambling. Brochures and information regarding help for a gambling problem, should be made available to all employees.
Another area that employers may want to consider is the legal ramifications of not taking action if they recognize that their employee has a gambling problem. They may be held accountable by the regulatory body in their state, for continuing to employ someone who has a compulsive gambling problem and is currently gambling. On the other hand, employers should have documented information before approaching a worker who is suspected of having a gambling problem.
Early detection of this hidden illness may result in the employee getting help before he or she reaches the desperation phase of compulsive gambling. With recovery, both the employee and the employer will benefit.
We are encouraged to see that some gaming companies have come a long way, in the last few years, by addressing this issue. They have developed training programs and responsible gaming programs and policies that have helped their employees who have a gambling problem.