Pathological Gambling

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on gambling in America lately. It hits really close to home. It is not my own struggle. Mine is more… visual in nature. But this is a huge problem in this country, and hardly ANYONE is talking about it. Therapists cannot agree on effective treatment. Gamblers Anonymous works sometimes, more often in combination with one-on-one therapy and/or GamAnon involvement for family members. The government doesn’t want to fund studies on compulsive gambling because that cuts the legs out from under their new-found fund source. All the while, casinos boom. The World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker are two of the most popular new series on cable. Teens have parent-sponsored ‘poker parties’ in their basements because parents feel it is safer for their children than ‘typical’ teen partying.

The current gambling boom in America is not the first. It is, in fact, the third. The first occured in colonial times and wasn’t stopped until the Jackson administration. The second burst onto the scene in the devastation following the Civil War, and went on until the huge Louisiana lottery scandal of the 1890’s. The third wave, the one that has mutated and exploded in the past five years, actually began in 1931 when casino gambling was decriminalized in Nevada.

Let’s talk practicality for a moment. Virtually all Americans live within a 4-hour drive from a casino. Soon, every state in America will have a lottery, because it is a whole lot more politically safe to promote a lottery than to promote wholesale tax increases. Increased crime. Rising divorce rates. Child abuse. All related to the increased popularization of gambling.

Even more frightening: Pre-teen and teen-age children exposed to serious gambling are three times as likely to become compulsive gamblers. Let me quote at length from an article on

Q: How are children affected by pathological gambling?

A: Children may be affected in several ways. They may be physically and/or emotionally abandoned by their parents, who are unable to provide their children with needed attention and nurturing because of the time spent gambling. “Casino kids” have been left by themselves at the outer rim of casinos while their parents gamble, according to some casino security officers. In some extreme cases, children are left in the family car in the casino parking lot for hours at a time while their parents gamble inside. Less obviously, children may also spend several hours each week with babysitters while their parents gamble in casinos, bingo halls or card rooms. All of these scenarios may lead a child to feel physically and emotionally abandoned.
In addition, the dysfunction that pathological gambling creates in a home often includes spouse and child abuse. Children are abused verbally, mentally and physically by the gambler, and often even more so by the co-dependent spouse. This devastating abuse frequently goes unnoticed or is denied by others as the child suffers in silence.
Another way children are affected by pathological gambling is when they become pathological gamblers themselves. Today, teens are approximately three times more likely than adults to become problem and pathological gamblers.

How can you learn whether or not someone you love just likes to play cards, or whether they have a real problem? According to the American Psychiatric Association “pathological gambling” is the

“chronic and progressive failure to resist impulses to gamble, and gambling behavior that compromises, disrupts, or damages personal, family, or vocational pursuits.” Pathological gambling has similarity with other addictive behaviors and can be diagnosed according to certain criteria. Henry Lesieur, a member of the board of directors of the National Council on Problem Gambling and of an American Psychiatric Association work group on disorders of impulse control, reports: “The American Psychiatric Association is proposing new diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling for inclusion in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Maladaptive behavior is indicated by at least four of the following:

1) preoccupied with gambling— preoccupied with reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble;

2) needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement;

3) is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling;

4) gambles as a way of escaping from problems or relieving dysphoric mood—feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression;
5) often returns another day in order to get even (“chasing” one’s money) after
6) lies to family and others to conceal the extent of involvement
with gambling;

7) engages in illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement, committed in order to finance gambling;

8) has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, educational or career
opportunity because of gambling;

9) relies on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling (a “bailout”);

10) repeats unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling.”

Henry R. Lesieur, “Compulsive Gambling,” Society
(May/June 1992), 43–44. See also Archibald D. Hart, Healing Life’s Hidden Addictions (Ann
Arbor: Servant Publications, 1990).

Is there any hope? Of course there is. God’s holiness and His grace provide hope for healing all the world’s illnesses. No other form of therapy works better than the path laid out in the Scriptures.

Faith undermined.
Hope misdirected.
Love distorted.

These three soul-wounds lie at the heart of all the problems in the world. Right now, I’m reading Addiction and Grace by Gerald May and How to Counsel From Scripture by Martin and Dierdre Bobgan. Compulsive gambling is as dangerous to our brothers and sisters, their children and families, and our society, as any other sin habit suffered by mankind. Paul promises that freedom from addiction is available in Christ. Let us strive with the Hebrew writer to lay aside all the sin that encumbers us and run with courage and determination the race that is set before us.

in HIS love,

About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 6 October, 2006, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. The sad irony is that many churchs have bingos, draws, contests of chance and gaming nights etc to raise funds. Particularly liked your comment about the 3 soul wounds that lay at the root of compulsive behavior. Well said.I came here via Daniel’s blog. And glad I did.

  2. I borrowed the soul wounds from the Bobgan book, but the concepts have really affected how I look at ministry in general.I am equally frustrated by the tendency of churches to do things that play into the dangers of the world. We must be careful in how we Christians talk, because there is nothing inherently sinful in games of chance. Like alcohol, they’re provided for our merriment and pleasure. And yet, Satan uses God’s own blessings to destroy God’s creation. If Satan used the law to crush Israel, he’ll use anything to crush everyone. We cannot build a fence around God’s law, like the ancient rabbis did. Gambling is a part of life. Farmers gamble on when to plant their crops. Managers gamble on how many employees they should schedule at any certain time. And games of chance CAN be harmless fun. Monopoly, Scrabble, Uno, Rook: all games of chance.Many of the influences that encourage compulsive gambling are sinful; much of the fruit of gambling is equally sinful. But without a clear-eyed, honestly nuanced view of the practice, its participants, and its victims, we will be fighting shadows with shadows, instead of evil with HIS love,Nick

  3. Nick,Excellent post.I believe the church should be a place where addicts, sinners, can come and find healing, forgivness, grace. I have seen in my ministry over the year work in AA helping people, Christians get the recovery they need. And gambling is an addiction that is often ignored by those in the church. How many elders, deacon’s, Bible class teachers, and others play the lottery and are even addicted. Thanks for you post.Great thoughts. I always enjoy your thoughts and your blog. God bless you Nick.

  4. Ancient Wanderer

    It is a terrible sin.I live in southeastern Louisiana and every single public establishment [except Wal-Mart but they have Package Stores inside] has video-poker machines – yes even Grocery Stores.Just stopped by to say hi.AW

  5. What an awful situation, especially for those of you smashed by Katrina-Rita. Tourism down there is so powerfully driven by sinful practices. But in order to get the money to rebuild the infrastructure of society, the government believes it must kiss the feet of the idols of Caesar’s Palace. Now the poor are even poorer, with even less support, and the systemic evil grows even greater. And still yet, out here hope HIS love,Nick

  6. Only some people are affected by gambling and not all people should be lumped into one stereotype.

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