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Online Gambling in New Jersey
Posted By Horizon NJ Health on November 12, 2013
Tags: Gambling, Pius Chikezie, New Jersey, casino
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Pius Chikezie, M.D., M.P.H., FACP, Medical Director, Horizon NJ Health

Q.In the news, lately I have read and heard that online casino gambling is going to be legal in New Jersey. I am worried that people I know may be tempted to bet on their computers and that my kids might be vulnerable. What can you tell me about this issue?

A.Problem gambling, like other addictive behavior, is a serious mental health issue that needs to be talked about by doctors, other health care providers and patients too. And it’s true that online gambling, by its very nature, could make things harder for those with gambling problems to stay under control.

Online gambling may be here as soon as November in New Jersey. In February 2013 Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill making it legal, and state regulators began working on the rules that will govern online gambling. Christie’s administration has said that the governor approved the bill to bring more gambling and tourist money back to Atlantic City, which has been losing business to casinos in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New York.

However, some groups in the state, and beyond, were angry at the move by the Legislature and even more so by Gov. Christie’s support. Groups involved in treating and helping compulsive gamblers say this measure will be devastating to these people and, indeed, could be dangerous for society in general. These groups say that making it so much easier to play games from the convenience of their homes is dangerous to those who might have the tendency to gamble too much. For its part, the state says that it will increase funding for treatment of problem gambling and that it will make sure children do not have access to the sites.

While many adults gamble – what are Powerball, Super Bowl pools and home poker games and bingo if not gambling? – most are responsible people who do it for fun and not to the point that it hurts them financially or socially.

But there is a small percentage of people – 3 to 5 percent, some psychiatrists and other mental health professionals say - who are problem or compulsive gamblers. Like drug and alcohol dependency, compulsive gambling is a serious, but treatable, problem. And for those who do have a gambling problem, it can hurt almost every aspect of their lives, including personal and work relationships. The truly addicted gambler will do anything, including things that are illegal, to finance their habit.

How can you determine who is, or might become, a problem gambler? Most gamblers fall into the following categories:

  • Casual Social Gamblers:  Gambling is a form of entertainment and relaxation. Other interests, such as sports and music, also occupy the casual social gambler’s time.
  • Serious Social Gamblers: Gambling is a regular past-time and serves as a major source of pleasure and entertainment.
  • Relief and Escape Gamblers: Gambling provides relief from anxiety, worry or depression. It’s similar to drinking or drugs in that it produces a “high” and provides excitement, escape or relief.
  • Compulsive Gamblers: The impulse to gamble is overpowering and it is near impossible to stop. Stealing or going into debt is a common way of financing the habit.

And once the gambler becomes compulsive, the progression of gambling addiction can be broken down into three primary stages: winning, losing, and desperation.

  • The Winning Stage: The gambler begins to experience what it’s like to win. The money that the gambler wins means confidence, self-esteem and popularity.
  • The Losing Stage: Even the smartest gambler can’t continue beating the odds forever, and begins losing more often. This leads to increased bets to compensate for losses. The gambler may even borrow money from friends or relatives to support his/her habit.
  • The Desperation Stage: A friend or relative usually “rescues” the gambler at this point, coming up with money to pay off debts. The compulsive gambler sees this bailout as a sign of invincibility, and continues betting recklessly and losing.

                                                                                                        

What can be done to help an addicted gambler? In addition to getting psychological and psychiatric counseling and making sure the gambler doesn’t have free access to bank accounts or credit cards, sometimes the police must be informed in case the gambler owes money to underworld figures. In New Jersey and other states, addicted gamblers can also have their names placed on a self-exclusion list, which bans them from ever gambling in casinos within the state. Addicted gamblers can also join a 12-step program such as Gamblers Anonymous.

If you have a friend or family member who needs help with a gambling problem, here are some resources:

The National Council on Problem Gambling

Phone:  1-800-522-7400

Web site: www.ncpgambling.org

Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey

Web site: www.800gambler.org