When Gambling Takes Over

The casino is a world onto itself. There are no windows, no clock, but there are flashing lights, and the din of clacking coins and whirring slot machines. Beyond the slots, figures are mesmerized at the crap table. Interest in poker hit new heights with televised Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments. For the majority of gamblers, this is excitement, recreation, a fun diversion or escape from the ordinary and a chance to beat the odds. For others, an estimated three percent of the adult population, it’s an addiction, an endless roller coaster of excitement and despair.

A pervasive characteristic of addiction of any kind is that the repeated behaviors have led to a range of negative consequences. This may be putting it mildly in the case of pathological gambling, because someone in the grips of compulsive gambling usually suffers severe blows to finances and relationships before seeking help. His or her life may be in shambles.

Often the compulsive gambler’s denial leads him to believe that the next round will save the day. Of course, if the numbers come up right, the cash or credit won is then “invested” again. Gambling addiction is hardly a recent development, but the advent of electronic poker and the break-neck speed of today’s slot machines, as well as Internet gambling have actually sped up the time it takes to gamble for fun and when it slips into problematic, then compulsive behavior.

Pathological gambling, like other addictions, is both a biological and a behavioral disease. While we don’t know all the factors leading to gambling addiction, they often include social, family and psychological elements. We do know that the brain neuropathways involving the brain’s mechanisms are affected in an individual’s perception of rewarding experiences. The emotional escape that an individual finds in gambling may become entrenched.

We have seen from 15-20 percent of patients who suffer from cross-addictive disorders, such as alcoholism or drug dependency with problem gambling. Some estimates state that 35 percent of those with substance abuse or dependence also have met the diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling at some point in their lives. The SOGS (South Oaks Gambling Screen) is the accepted psychosocial diagnostic tool to identify a gambling problem and its progression.

Both substance and gambling addiction are progressive diseases, and may be characterized by inability to control impulses (to use or to gamble) denial, anxiety mood swings and depression and the need for instant gratification. Gambling, like chemical dependency, offers euphoric highs, which are inevitably followed by emotional valleys and usually remorse and shame. A major difference in gambling versus substance addiction is that the alcoholic or drug addict doesn’t believe the substance is the answer to recovery and to his problems, while the compulsive gambler believes the Big Win will be the answer to all his problems.

Gambling addictions can also result in symptoms such as blackouts and sleep disorders and hopelessness. Divorce, relationship and work problems, even arrests are some devastating consequences of compulsive gambling. A person’s general health is often neglected, including medical conditions that have been ignored. Gambling addiction is certainly a family disease, creating a dysfunctional family system that revolves around the individual’s addiction. Children may be emotionally stranded as well as physically neglected. Kids are affected long term too, with studies estimating 35 to 50 percent of children of pathological gamblers eventually experiencing gambling problems of their own.

It is important that when chemical and gambling addictions co-occur, they are treated at the same time. Like chemical dependency, gambling addiction is addressed in holistic treatment based on the Twelve Step Philosophy. Treatment is individualized and takes into account issues of gender and age.

Gambling: is it the money?

Some experts, including Dr. Henry Lesieur, St. John’s University, NY, who co-authored the SOGS screening assessment, believe it isn’t really about the money, even though money becomes a looming issue. Seeking action seems to be the major impetus for many. Being in action may be similar to the high of taking cocaine. “Chasing losses” is term use by habitual gamblers to describe attempting to recoup the gambling losses by winning. The action gambler usually likes to gamble on site, at a casino, racetrack, or other “live” venue. Often they are identified by casinos as “high rollers” and received comped rooms and meals. Others, though, don’t gamble for action so much as numb their feelings with compulsive gambling, so it becomes the ultimate, albeit temporary escape.

Age and gender as factors

A study by University of Connecticut Health Center psychiatrists published in 2002 evaluated gamblers seeking treatment and found significant differences by age and gender in pathological gamblers. Middle aged (aged 36-55) and older gamblers tended to include more women, at 45-55 percent, than younger gamblers (aged 18-35) at 23 percent. Middle aged and older women didn’t begin gambling regularly until the age of 55, while older men reported a habit of lifelong gambling. Perhaps surprisingly, the women also wagered greatest amounts in the month prior to treatment. Younger gamblers reported most problems with substance abuse, social and legal problems, while older gamblers found more employment-related problems.

There is hope for recovery

Pathological gamblers, like others who suffer from addiction can and do recover. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, with Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, can change unhealthy behaviors and thoughts, including false beliefs, rationalizations, and self-destructive feelings. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy also helps individuals to meet life on its own terms rather than escape painful emotions with compulsive addictions.

A holistic treatment program that addresses the root issues of addiction as well as any co-occurring disorders is an effective approach that treats the whole person. Continuing care may be essential, especially for impulse control, as well as ongoing participation in support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. The recovering gambler may also need professional financial advise, and family therapy can help to develop a supportive, healthy family structure for sustained recovery.

Internet Gambling Laws – US, UK and the World

Legal minds turned to Internet gambling laws as a specialty when the industry went beyond growth and exploded into the public mind. “The law surrounding Internet gambling in the United States has been murky, to say the least,” according to Lawrence G. Walters, one of the attorneys working with gameattorneys.com.

In contrast, Internet gambling laws in the U.K. have made the lives of providers and players a bit easier. The passage of the Gambling Act of 2005 has basically legalized and regulated online play in the U.K.

With the objectives of keeping gambling from promoting “crime or disorder” the U.K. act attempts to keep gambling fair, in addition to protecting younger citizens and others who may be victimized by gambling operation. Unlike the United States, which still clings to the 1961 Wire Wager Act, the U.K. significantly relaxed regulations that are decades old. A gambling commission was established to enforce the code and license operators.

A Whole Other Country

According to Walters and many other observers of the Internet gambling laws scene, the United States Department of Justice continues to view all gambling on the Internet as illegal under the Wire Act. But there are details in the federal law that defy attempts to throw a blanket over all online gambling.

The Wire Wager Act forms the basis for federal action on Internet gambling laws in the United States. The law was meant to complement and support laws in the various states, focusing primarily on “being engaged in the business of betting or wagering” using wire communication to place bets or wagers on sporting events or similar contests. The law also comments on receiving money or credit that results from such a wager. The keys are “business,” “money or credit” and “wire communication facility.”

But as many attorneys and proponents of fair Internet gambling laws emphasize, the federal law does not specifically address other forms of gambling. This has left the law open to interpretation when it comes to online casinos specifically and using the World Wide Web to play online games.

October 13, 2006 is a crucial date in the controversy surrounding the legalization of gambling. For anyone wishing to understand Internet gambling laws, the federal law passed on that day is essential knowledge. President George W. Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which is intended to limit some “financial transactions” used for online gambling.

But even if current federal gambling laws can clearly define something as simple as a legal gambling age, the newer UIGEA has not settled all the dust raised around the issue of online gambling. Attorneys such as Walters (and many others) have pointed out that the UIGEA seems to refer only to financial transactions and wagers that are illegal where the wager or transaction is made. Some wagers may be legal while others may not be legal. It’s as simple as that.

The UIGEA had some effect on Internet gambling, in that many successful companies got out of the business, at least in the United States. In fact, with the passage of the law in 2006, most U.S. online players found they could not play at an online casino or poker room, for a short time. Many of the gambling providers found ways to establish offices and servers outside of the U.S. so that could invite United States players back in.

Break Time

It’s now time to stop, take a deep breath and turn to Internet gambling laws in the various states. Some have passed their own rules and regulations (before and after UIGEA). In a few states, companies cannot operate an online gambling business. In other states it is illegal for an individual to place a bet using the Web. Some legal experts argue that these individual-state rules are unconstitutional since commerce across state lines should only be regulated by federal law, not state law. Commercial online gambling businesses don’t operate in the United States, however. If you want to visit their “home offices” you may have to travel to Malta, Gibraltar or Curacoa.

The 2005 U.K. law generally allows remote sites such as these. The rules are not so relaxed in the U.S. However, a recent appellate court ruling in the U.S. states that, in at least one case, an Web-based gambling site did not violate states laws. Most legal minds urge gamblers and others interested in the issue to stay tuned.

Some have given their attention to finding benefits of legalized gambling, noting that this huge industry might be a key to economic recovery in the United States. At the heart of their argument are examples such as established lotteries run by various states, in addition to the government revenues that flow in to state coffers from riverboats and land-based casinos.

Part of this effort rests on the shoulders of more than 100 legal representatives working for common sense in Internet gambling laws. This hoard of attorneys has the task of trying to keep the World Wide Web/Internet free from government intervention.

Bob Ciaffone is considered one of the experts on the subject of gambling and poker in general, and on the transition to online gambling. He suggests that any regulation of Web-based gambling should reduce competition from outside the U.S., so that the citizens of the U.S. would benefit in legal gambling states. His detailed plan would parallel the U.K. situation since that country passed its 2005 rules. Ciaffone also strongly urges U.S. lawmakers to keep Internet gambling laws separate from the 40-year-old Wire Act, which was passed to control illegal gambling over the telephone.

In essence, Ciaffone writes that the UIGEA attempted to do the right thing, but does it in all the wrong ways. The restrictions have severely handicapped what could be a great revenue source with proper regulation, according to Ciaffone.

Consider a statement on the UIGEA from the most-recognizable poker player in the world, Doyle Brunson. Though is comments apply to his favorite game of poker, they can easily relate to all Internet gambling laws. He said, in essence, that his company received good legal advice that indicates Internet poker is not “expressly” illegal. He encourages U.S. players to learn the laws of their own state.

Nostalgia in Games

Nostalgia. The word brings to mind a joyous familiarity felt when engaging in something in the present that we really enjoyed doing in the past. Gaming is no different. Everyone has games that bring back memories from, what we think of now as, better times. Hindsight is a like the snob that points out what you could have done, hindsight tells us our childhood may not have been as bad as we thought. As adults we know how the world works. When we were growing up, we never really had a grip on the world. Hindsight tells us that those times were better, safer, less complicated. Games that bring on nostalgia puts us in the mindset of a kid again. It makes us feel safe, secure, and protected. Humans have a natural tendency to want safety and protection. Especially the adults, because as adults we know just how quickly the world can go from OK one day, to horrible the next. As gamers we seek safety and security in games.

I started gaming when I was very young as most gamers my age did. I grew up playing Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 with my mom and sister. Super Mario, Kirby, and Mario Cart were a few of the titles that we played. Zelda was perhaps the biggest game we played. My mom has problems with fast-moving games like Call of Duty and other highly graphic games. So we played Super Nintendo and what a time it was! Zelda on the Super Nintendo we beat many times. I say “we” but it was my mom playing not me or my sister. Even thinking about it while writing this I’m getting nostalgia. We kept getting close to the end and then the game wiping our save out so we started over like three times. It was good times. That was when I was around six or seven or eight. Long time ago. Nostalgia gives us hope for the future. It tells us that if good times happened in the past then more good times will happen in the future.

Later I started gaming on my own. It is hard to think about what game came next in chronological order but they all had a theme: single-player strategy. A broad gaming description that can fit a lot of games in it. Games like Pharaoh and Cleopatra, Age of Empires II, and of course Sid Meier’s Civilization III. I was not allowed to play shooters as they had bad language in them and so was restricted to single player games. My parents were very protective and games were not as prevalent twenty years ago as they are now. Pharaoh is a city builder placing you in ancient Egypt. The goal of the game was the build great cities using the resources at your disposal and it was quite a challenge for an eleven year old. Age of Empires II is a real-time strategy game that is completely different from pharaoh. You have to balance resource collection and troop production to take down either AI or other players. Civ III was probably my favorite game growing up. To this day, I still play pharaoh and age of empires II.

Think about what nostalgia is again for just a second. It is a feeling coming from a memory. A memory of “better times” that may or may not be accurate. Games we played a long time ago, that brings back those memories, might not continue to be fun. Civ III I played for hundreds of hours when I was younger is not as fun now that I am older so I do not play it as much now. Sometimes nostalgia lies.

In conclusion, nostalgia in games is a good thing. It allows us to relive parts of our childhood that we otherwise would not have a reason to bring back up from the depths of our minds. Many people say that video games lead to anti-social behavior, violence, and a drop in school grades. Video games teach us how the world is. When you are playing multiplayer of any game you will usually find people who are just toxic. It prepares for dealing with the worst society has to throw at us. Human beings are prone to violence. The first murder happened when Cain killed Abel back in Genesis. I am pretty sure at they did not have video games back then. So this point is always going to be moot. The only point that actually makes sense is the drop in school grades. It takes a great deal of discipline to do school work over video games. It builds character this discipline. So next time you feel nostalgia coming on, take some time to stop and smell the memories. Bask in the thoughts of better times and the hope that good times are still ahead, no matter what the world tells you in the present. This is what video game nostalgia teaches us.