Gamblers spend big in parish

$22 million spent on video poker so far this year

December 05, 2007 at 1:05 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Gamblers no longer need to trek to Las Vegas or Atlantic City to find the action they crave.

It is available today in their hometowns.
In St. Charles Parish, there are 246 video poker machines at 50 locations. Louisiana State Troopers Gaming Division revenue reports show St. Charles Parish raked in $22, 361, 838.50 from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2007 from people using the machines. Vendors paid out $13,931, 213.00, for a net loss of $8,430, 625.50 to residents who take part in gaming. Franchise fees paid by vendors totaled $2,555,210.60.

The winners are few but the repercussions of gambling are many. According to the American Psychiatric Association, pathological gambling is a progressive disease that devastates not only the gambler but everyone with whom he or she has a significant relationship. In 1980, the psychiatric association accepted pathological gambling as a "disorder of impulse control" that requires treatment. It is an illness that is chronic and progressive, but it can be diagnosed and treated.

"I've seen what gambling can do to a family," Councilman Ram Ramachandran said. "I know a couple who are in their 70's, and they are on a fixed income, and all they do is gamble. It's really sad."

Ramachandran says gambling is saturating the community and destroying families.
"It's very addictive and we need to do something to keep these families from losing it all," he said.

A Killona mother who requests anonymity spoke at the council meeting on Nov. 5 about video bingo and described her son's struggle with video poker.

"He's lost his job and everything because of the gambling," she said. "He and his wife are divorced and he now lives at home with me. I wish we would have never let it into St. Charles Parish, because he's only 21 years old."

Current estimates suggest that three percent of the adult population will experience a serious problem with gambling that will result in significant debt, family disruption, job losses, criminal activity or suicide.

The Highs and Lows of Gambling

Pathological gambling affects the gamblers, their families, their employers and the community. Pathological gambling is broken down into three phases depending on whether a player is winning or losing money.

During the winning phase, gamblers experience a big win or a series of wins that leaves them with unreasonable optimism that their winning will continue. This leads them to feel great excitement when gambling, and they begin increasing the amounts of their bets. During the losing phase, the gamblers often begin bragging about wins they have had, start gambling alone, think more about gambling and borrow money legally or illegally. They start lying to family and friends and become more irritable, restless and withdrawn. Their home life becomes unhappy, and they are unable to pay off debts. The gamblers begin to "chase" their losses, believing they must return as soon as possible to win back their losses.

During the desperation phase, there is a marked increase in the time spent gambling. Remorse, blaming others and alienating family and friends accompany this phase. Eventually, the gamblers may engage in illegal acts to finance their gambling.

Treatment is available

Beginning in 2005, Louisiana's former Attorney General Charles Foti Jr., started a program to help chronic and compulsive gamblers receive treatment rather than jail time for offenses related to gambling.

The Gambling Treatment Referral Program, a pilot project that began in the 26th Judicial District Court in November 2004, is designed to offer gambling addiction treatment rather than prison time for first or second time offenders who have committed nonviolent crimes such as theft, forgery, issuing worthless checks and failure to pay child support.
The treatment program is funded through the Department of Health and Hospitals - Office for Addictive Disorders, Compulsive and Problem Gambling Fund, which receives revenue from the gambling industry as required by law. DHH-OAD is working with the Attorney General's Office and the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling to implement the program statewide.

Initial screening for participation in the treatment program begins with the District Attorney and his or her staff. If the District Attorney determines a person's crime is directly related to gambling addiction, the District Attorney will make a referral to the Gambling Treatment Referral Program.

A counselor from the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling or the DHH Office for Addictive Disorders will review the case and evaluate the offender for participation in the program.

People with a gambling problem, are encouraged to call the Helpline at 1-877-770-7867.

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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