How You Can Help Your Employees Who Have a Gambling Problem

Article Written for Indian Gaming Magazine


by: Arnie and Sheila Wexler

We are not prohibitionists and we won’t argue morally about the issue of gambling . We don’t advocate repeal of lotteries, closing of racetracks , sinking of riverboats or unplugging the neon in Las Vegas. All we want to do is warn about the dangers of compulsive gambling.

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 individual cannot resist the impulse to gamble- they are compulsive gamblers.

The social gambler differs from the compulsive gambler in that he or she can quit gambling anytime, win or lose. This seems due to three factors: 1) there is no self-esteem tied into winning or losing; 2) other aspects of their lives are more important and rewarding; and 3) they rarely have a big win.

Seventy five percent of people who gamble are sociable gamblers . They do it for enjoyment and entertainment and gambling has little effect on their lives. Problem gamblers make up about twenty percent. For these people, losses can cause some financial and family problems, but not so bad that families or jobs are jeopardized. Compulsive gamblers are estimated at five percent. For them ,their gambling behavior compromises, disrupts, or damages personal, family, or vocational pursuits. As the compulsive gamblers enters the Desperation phase white collar crime and embezzlements will occur. They will eventually become severely depressed and have suicidal thoughts or plans.

With the rapid expansion of gambling in America in the last few years ,gaming is now legal and accessible in 48 states and is becoming as available as a can a beer or a pack of cigarettes. Gambling is the fastest growing business in America, today, and I believe we are only at the tip of the iceberg . Americans wagered more than $600 billion, legally, last year. As this expansion continues there will be more people gambling and naturally, more people will become addicted and need services.

Being a recovering compulsive gambler I know , first hand, what compulsive gambling can do to someone’s life and the life of their family. I started gambling at age seven and stopped at age thirty and never gambled in a legal casino. In the desperation phase of my gambling I held an executive position for a “Fortune 500 “ company while doing illegal acts to support my gambling addiction, but looked as if I was functioning on the job because compulsive gambling is a hidden, invisible, addiction. Unlike alcohol or drugs you can’t see it or smell it. My children and my wife suffered the devastating effects of my gambling. In desperation to continue gambling I neglected the welfare of my family for many years. On April 10. 1968, I placed my last bet .

I have spoken to more compulsive gamblers and their families than anyone else in America. Over the last fifteen years I have run two National Hot Lines and now run a National Hot Line “1-888- LASTBET. In the last few years there has been an enormous increase in the numbers of people calling hot lines for help .25% of the calls were from female gamblers, 11% were from people under the age of 21, and 10% were calls from senior citizens. In 1993, when I was on the Oprah Winfrey show we received 4,960 calls on that one day , alone.

My wife was the Deputy Director of the New Hope Foundation which is an Addictions Treatment center that treats alcohol, drug and gambling problems. In 1994 my wife and myself resigned our jobs and started a consulting firm to do training’s, workshops, and treatment for and about compulsive gambling. We have written Responsible Gaming programs for several gaming companies and have trained over 10,000 gaming employees.

We’ve worked with compulsive gambling issues for thirty years and find it refreshing that the climate is changing with some people in the gaming industry, who have begun to address the compulsive gambling issue in the last few years. New Jersey and Nevada now require posting of Responsible Gaming brochures and hot line numbers for help with a gambling problem. Nevada requires training for all gaming employees, on the subject of compulsive gambling

Employees of casinos and other gaming establishments may be two to three times more likely to be problem gamblers than their customers. This means that 10% or more of the employees of the gaming industry may be experiencing serious gambling related problems. These result in erratic work performance, inconsiderate treatment of customers, absenteeism, theft, embezzlement, and increased health care costs for the casino. Casino employee programs should address compulsive gambling issues the same way they address alcohol and chemical dependency issues. Compulsive gambling is also a treatable illness and the compulsive gambler , in recovery, will become a valuable asset to your organization. It would be good business for the industry to address problem gambling and realize it exists on both sides of the table.

I think the responsible thing to do, by gaming entities , would be to set up a Responsible Gaming Policy that would include an education and training program for employees, workshops on compulsive gambling, posting signs about where compulsive gamblers can get help, and having printed information on compulsive gambling available.

As the National Gambling Impact Study Commission’s report is soon to be completed, we will probably see a strong focus on the issue of compulsive gambling. We would think it would be important to deal with this issue within your company.