18 September 2003

Public Hearings Programme

Mr Chairman, Honourable members, Ladies and Gentlemen

I address you today as an executive member of the Gamblers Anonymous Gauteng Intergroup, (GAGI). I need to stress that I do not speak on behalf of Gamblers Anonymous, only on behalf of GAGI and the member groups it represents.

I have what is clinically termed a pathological gambling disorder. In other words, I am a compulsive gambler, and for me, any form of gambling is no longer an option. I have passed the point where I can control my gambling urges. For the average individual who is not so possessed, this may seem very strange, even alien. And yet is has been documented in millions of cases worldwide. I am therefore also able to speak from an informed personal perspective.

GAGI does not represent any commercial interest. All members of GAGI act in an honorary capacity to the extent that the cost of my air ticket and all other incidental expenses have been borne by myself.

I make this point to illustrate the member's of GAGI's commitment to ensuring that reasonable measures of control are implemented in the very unregulated Gaming Community.

We do not experience the difficulties associated with public approval that are often ascribed to the more politically inclined. Our interest today is motivated by a wish to prove that it is possible, as a concerned pressure group to make a difference to society. Far too often we hear it said, and especially in the context of South Africa past and present, that there is nothing one can do, and then simply throw our hands in the air and leave the problem for others to deal with.

GAGI's purpose is to argue for the inclusion of certain aspects that have been included in the National Gambling Bill, to ask for the inclusion of additional items, and to express an opinion on matters relating to the bill in general.

Some would say that my task here today is an easy one because we occupy the moral high ground. I would urge caution at this potential red herring. While there is no doubt that the gambling industry is in the spotlight in this debate, there is also no doubt that the industry has had its own way for a long time now. It is the failure of the industry to effectively self regulate that has led to the current debate and to what some may see as a crisis.

However, it is also the failure of all of us. Too often we can be guided by misleading statistics into drawing conclusions that are inappropriate when our common sense, our gut, strongly urges otherwise. I hope that we have the courage to let our common sense prevail. As far as possible, I will refrain from statistical inferences.

Members will have already seen, or are referred to the written submission which formed the basis of our recommendations - some of which are now included in the bill. During the course of this submission, I shall be paraphrasing many contributors too numerous to mention. For those who may be interested, I shall include a fully cross-referenced copy of this submission to the speaker.

There are three areas that I wish to address today.

  1. Social Impact of gambling
  2. Sociopolitical Aspects of Gambling
  3. Legislation and Control of the Social responsibility aspects of gambling

Social Impact of Gambling

GAGI welcomes the efforts of the present administration to address the potential problems wrought by the original Gambling Bill because we believe it takes a great deal of courage to address problems at an individual level, to say nothing of at a societal level.

We are of the opinion that it is naïve to regard the gambling industry as one that goes into business purely to entertain people. They go into business in order to generate the largest profits in the shortest possible time. That is the nature of business. The nature of civil society, on the other hand, is to ensure that the greatest possible freedoms are accompanied by the least possible harm and the greatest possible good.

Obviously, I and many others, deal on an almost daily basis with the effects of problem gambling by virtue of our involvement with GA

We are concerned that the majority of studies present the desirability of having a gambling industry in terms of its benefits versus its costs, and that the costs are almost exclusively measured in terms of the propensity to create addicted or pathological gamblers. Although this is now changing to reflect "problem gamblers" as well, it nevertheless restricts the focus to a minority of those affected by gambling, perpetuating the idea that there are two distinct populations of gamblers, thereby perpetuating the conceptualization of problems in terms of vulnerable individuals rather than problematic activities and structural factors.

These studies refer to "problem gamblers" and "recreational gamblers" as two distinct groups. Indeed, even the GA tests seem to indicate that there is a level below which people do not experience problems relating to gambling. The broader assumption is that for the remainder of people who gamble, gambling causes no problems whatsoever. No one is prepared to concede that there is a substantial aggregate impact by gamblers who experience occasional or minor harms.


Gambling has strong parallels with alcohol. Both gambling and alcohol are legal, are commonly used, have a high level of social acceptance, and are an important source of government revenue. Both the alcohol industry and the gambling industry:

  1. Resist regulation.
  2. Invoke the principles of freedom of choice of consumers.
  3. Have a tendency to label those who oppose their expansion
  4. Claim to provide significant economic benefits to society.


Historically, the focus of impact research groups has been on small numbers of people with severe problems. This is the case with the alcohol industry and their "alcoholics" as it is with the gambling industry and its Compulsive gamblers. More recently, there has been a recognition among treatment professionals that there is a continuum of harms rather than a clear demarcation, and also that there is a much broader range of harms.

We believe that the gambling industry is more comfortable with the disease model of addiction, because it posits a distinction between a population which can gamble with impunity and a small minority that cannot. The industry has a vested interest in promoting the idea that a minority of people are gambling addicts but that the rest can safely go to casinos or play the lottery.

So, the gambling business endorsed the idea that compulsive gambling was an individual illness unrelated to any gambling institution or law and therefore came to support therapy programs for such unfortunate individuals who presumably suffered not just from the attractions of gambling - but also from primitive types of thinking, compulsive fixations, and even defective "relations with their parents".

Gambling proponents and therapists alike conceptualized the addictive element in some people's betting as a strictly idiosyncratic matter. A significant and articulate part of the public health apparatus has been drawn into emphasizing individual, not social responsibility - and specifically that of the compulsive person, not the act and certainly not the profit taker. This hypothesis is largely incorrect if examined in a systemic context.

Casinos and other gambling venues often endorse this idea in a variety of ways, for example by displaying posters about treatment services and even funding them. Of course, there are significant numbers of people whose lives are devastated by ongoing excessive gambling.

But it is crucial to recognize that these are the tip of the iceberg, and there are many more people harmed by gambling less visibly and less devastatingly on an individual basis. Furthermore, these other people account for more harm than the small minority with very severe problems.

The preventive paradox is that while the minority of people with severe disorders need to take responsibility for their compulsions on an individual basis, the focus of prevention needs to be on the broader population, not just heavy gamblers.

It is difficult to measure the effects of gambling on individuals, it is surely more difficult to evaluate the often subtle impact of commercial gambling on existing institutional structures within our larger society. The focus on pathological gamblers ignores the slow relentless draining of resources from communities, especially marginalized communities. The costs of gambling might include:

  1. Declining patronage at a few local restaurants
  2. Workers being laid off over several years.
  3. A few businesses closing down now and then without much fanfare.
  4. A problem gambler who loses her job.
  5. A bank that doesn't get its loan paid back.
  6. A court which must hire more officers.
  7. An insurance company which must pay for a fraud claim.
  8. Increased health premiums to pay for treatment of gamblers.
  9. Increased levels of theft from companies by their employees to cover gambling debts.
  10. Higher road accidents from gamblers hoping to die in an accident rather than face the devastation of their losses. (It is no co-incidence that a higher rate of accidents happen around casino venues etc.)
  11. Children left derelict and destitute to the care of the state
  12. lower productivity from workers who are more obsessed with winning a living than with earning one.

In our country, every economically active person supports a number of other people. Once the economically active person's funds are depleted these others suffer proportionally. The severe problem gamblers in South Africa would fill a city the size of Port Elizabeth. Perhaps we require a small province to accommodate the resulting people that are left without a means of financial support. In turn this drain then falls to those economically active who remain, inexorably feeding the chain of destruction. And this is just the severe problem gamblers.

While many others experience problems that may be small individually, cumulatively they may rise to additional billions of Rands a year.

Casinos have become "family fun centers," complete with amusement rides and video arcades featuring casino-style games. Lotteries saturate the airwaves with seductive advertising, using cartoon characters and other ploys to entice the young. The elderly are bussed in to experience the lure of the quick buck. For many, their obsession with gambling will culminate in divorce, bankruptcy, domestic violence, criminal activity, child abuse, and even suicide - widening even further the ripples of devastation.

Though gambling proponents attempt to marginalize addicts as rare exceptions, in reality they are the lifeblood of this industry. Many of these are lower- and middle-income individuals betting sums of money they and their families can ill afford to lose.

The lottery, in particular, preys on the desperation of the poor. They saturate impoverished neighborhoods with outlets and aggressively market a 14 million-to-one long shot to individuals grasping for a straw of hope. Research showed that lotteries rake in more than half their profits from lower income earners and the unemployed, who are disproportionately poor and undereducated. While it may be true that the lottery has created a hundred or so millionaires, it can hardly be said that the spin off effects on the broader society in any way compensate for the further destruction of the fabric of society.

Perhaps even more disturbing, a significant proportion of our young people already display signs of severe gambling problems. Many gambling operators actively attempt to inculcate betting habits in the next generation of gamblers.

The Sociopolitical Aspects of a Gambling Industry

Why have we allowed gambling to proliferate without even pausing to count the costs?

In a word, money

In many cases we have been caught off guard by the promises of easy pickings from a lucrative industry. The previous government who used the gambling industry as a means to generate development in the former homelands had already set the precedent. The same model has now been adopted by its successors and infrastructure development in previously disadvantaged areas proliferates only because obtaining a gambling license is conditional on this investment.

In much the same way as the casino development model was used to drive infrastructural development, so too, the planned introduction of limited payout machines is perceived in some quarters as being an appropriate mechanism to advance black economic empowerment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Gambling is by nature a risk-taking activity. When it was only a recreational activity - a weekend bet on the horses or a raffle ticket at a fundraiser - the recreational purpose built into the activity contains certain restraints making it socially beneficial.

By making it a major industry, however, we have made two serious errors.

Firstly, we have licensed an industry whose interest lies in persuading its clients to abandon such restraints: advertising suggesting everyone is a winner; the suppression of counter advertising and even of data from government-funded counselling agencies; provision of enticements like club cards, free drinks and even child care facilities to keep gamblers in venues; exposing our poorest suburbs to deliberate targeting.

Secondly, government dependence on gambling revenues has compromised its ability to fulfill its duty of regulating that industry for the common good. Being a hazardous industry, the government and we as members of civil society have a duty to prevent its unrestrained promotion, but government's gambling dependence drives it to support such promotion.

Yet we have made our bed and now we must lie in it. The consequences of not heeding the warnings of legalized gambling detractors at the start of the proceedings means that now we must pay the price of that laxity. But let us do so in a way that limits the damage going forward. Let us formulate a method that can allow for freedom of choice in a framework of adequate social responsibility and informed decision capability for all our citizens.

We should pause in our pell-mell rush into gambling's embrace. For some forms of convenience gambling such as LPM's we urge a rollback while still in the early stages. For others such as online gambling, we urge prohibition. Untold damage has already been inflicted, and more looms unless we take immediate action.

Some of our other recommendations include warning children and adults about gambling's dangers, eliminating ATM-type machines from casino floors, enforced casino closure for a minimum period per day.

Gambling is not harmless entertainment, as its defenders contend. It is not like ten pin bowling, cricket or football. It is a greed-driven, predatory vice, scientifically designed to squeeze the maximum amounts of money possible from every single patron. It is by its very nature an enterprise wholly dependent on victims.

The Regulation and Control of Gambling.

In the process of making the recommendations to the 11th draft of the National Gambling Bill, we felt it necessary to acknowledge that indeed there are some positive spin-offs from a gambling industry. However, in order to derive the benefits, it has become necessary to increase the level of regulation of this industry before irreversible social harm results.

However, before examining the regulations themselves, I would like to give a brief overview of the addictive and gambling harms process in order that our recommendations can be better understood in a broader context.

Gambling disorders and harms do not come out of an instantaneous decision to create havoc. Most people become gambling addicts over an extended period of time, the addict being almost totally unaware of the destructive process he or she has chosen. For most people, the first encounters with gambling are a fun, fruitful and often profitable encounter. It is only after a sustained period of some two to five years, which may or may not be accompanied by extensive bouts of gambling, that the harms start to become evident ultimately leading to full blown addiction.

In each of two categories of problem gambler, identified as "escape gamblers" and "action gamblers" treatment professionals recognize essentially three to four phases on the road to becoming a gambling addict. It is not my purpose here to delve in any depth into the nature of gambling addiction. You are invited to review the references and documentation that I have included in the written brief.

Suffice it to say that each of our recommendations has been made with the in-depth understanding of what it takes to develop a gambling addiction and the identification of the places where the harm prevention measures are likely to be most effective. Our purpose being at all times to limit the damage that is done in the broader societal context, and not just in the case of the minority problem gambler.

Further, each of the clauses that is recommended by GAGI has been evaluated with the following outcomes in mind:

  1. To limit the destructive impact of gambling as already extensively outlined above
  2. To permit beneficial aspects of the gambling industry to thrive because
    1. It allows freedom of choice for those citizens who wish to gamble
    2. Enables government to continue to derive much needed revenue
    3. Prohibition has been shown to be an inappropriate response
    4. It is an industry from which good can come if properly and effectively regulated.
    5. For brevity, I shall address only those clauses that we think are likely to be controversial and to which we have additional comments to make. The remainder of clauses that deal with the social impact of gambling and on which we do not comment can be assumed to be endorsed by us.

      1. Restrictions on granting credit or discounts to gamblers

We envisage that gambling operators are likely to find this clause to be extremely onerous. And yet the granting of credit (or more particularly the repayment thereof) is identified as one of the chief causes of gambling harms.

The Bill proposes that:-

  1. A person licensed to make any gambling activity available to the public must not:
    1. Extend credit, in the name of the licensee or a third party, to any person for the purpose of gambling;
    2. Permit a person to place funds on deposit with the licensee, or pay for a gambling activity, directly or indirectly, by credit card or charge card;
    3. Offer or provide accommodation, meals, drinks, other refreshments, or any similar service free of charge or at a discounted price;
    4. own, lease or be the licensed operator of a cash dispensing machine.

We recognise that the use of credit and charge cards is the common way of doing business these days. However, we also know that one of the chief causes of gambling related harms is when people continue to play more and more in the hope of winning. We need to recognise that by the time a person has started to experience gambling related problems, that he or she is incapable of recognising the logically obvious - that in the long run there is no chance of winning and the longer one plays, the more one loses.

On the contrary, this individual is now lulled into a false sense of hope and firmly believes that by simply playing for a little bit longer, the elusive win must eventually come. It is for this reason that problem gamblers draw more and more money from charge and credit cards until they are all saturated - referred to as "maxing out" the cards - something that many gamblers will do with a multiplicity of cards in one sitting. The rationale for the following recommendations is that the gambler has made a conscious rational decision to bet a specific sum of money in a specific time period - consistent with a non-problematic gambling attitude.

So, as a compromise which would go some way to helping prevent the growth of problem gambling while also allowing the industry to continue to do business, we recommend that

    1. licensed premises be permitted to grant patrons credit provided that 24 hours written notice has been requested by the patron in advance and that this notice applies to a credit period of only one month, after which a further application must be made. This is obviously an administratively tedious process, but no more than might be expected from any retail outlet doing business with its customers for credit.
    2. In relation to credit or charge cards, that licensed premises be permitted to allow patrons to draw gambling money against such cards, but that this be limited to a maximum of one withdrawal per customer (note, not per card) per 24 hour period per licensed venue.

14 Excluded persons

The entire of clause 14 is fully endorsed. However, we would prefer to see the introduction of a requirement that all licensed premises maintain a suitable smart card access control system that is linked to a national register whereby patrons who are excluded from gambling are prevented from gaining access. I have numerous personal experiences with licensed premises being unable or unwilling to give effect to self exclusion orders in the past, and I can see no way in which to effectively implement such an exclusion system without a system such as the smart card system.

  1. Restrictions on advertising gambling activities
  2. Enforceability of gambling debts and forfeiture of unlawful winnings
  3. The entire of clauses 15 & 16 are fully endorsed

  4. Standards for gambling premises
  5. The entire of clause 17 is endorsed with the following specific comments

    1. No person may operate any licensed premises within the prescribed distance from a school.
    2. No person may place or operate a cash dispensing machine within any licensed premises.
    3. The availability of unplanned cash withdrawals without the necessity to leave the premises is an active component in the formation of gambling addictions, as mentioned in the preamble. This is an important harm prevention clause

    4. Every licensee operating licensed premises at which a gambling activity is conducted must close those premises for a continuous period of at least six hours during every 24 hour period.
      1. Most problem gamblers report losing any and all sense of time while gambling
      2. International research has shown that enforced closure is likely to lead to a drop in the rate of problem and gambling addiction.
      3. There is no other industry which keeps its doors open to the public 24 hours a day.
      4. This is an important harm prevention clause
    5. Every licensee operating licensed premises at which a gambling activity is conducted must post a notice, in the prescribed manner and form, warning of the dangers of compulsive and addictive gambling.
      1. Each licensee must ensure that a trained treatment professional is available on call at all licensed premises during operating hours.
      2. Sufficient and accessible literature in the form of leaflets giving information on problem gambling must also be available readily available at all licensed premises.

Clauses relating to limited payout machines

In respect of all clauses relating to limited payout machines, it is our opinion that this aspect of the gambling industry should be rolled back where already implemented and prevented from being rolled out further where implementation has already begun.

Our reasons are as follows

  1. There is an existing gambling industry and gambling desires have a ready outlet in the form of horse, casino and lottery betting alternatives.
  2. Casinos, at least, are a relatively easy environment in which to monitor harms and to enact further preventive measures should these be deemed necessary in time to come.
  3. The LPM industry will specifically target the poor and marginalized communities if international experience is anything to go by.
  4. Despite attempts to write into the legislation control measures such as national electronic monitoring systems, in reality these will, we believe be impossible to monitor, let alone control effectively.
  5. The LPM industry has far too much scope for abuse by unscrupulous operators
  6. Internationally, and specifically in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, LPMs have been shown to be more addictive and to cause more damage than most other forms
  7. They may well be limited in payout, but there is no proposed limit on what can be paid into them. If the assumption is that by limiting the amounts that these machines can pay out that this implies an automatic limit on what will be gambled on them - this premise is entirely false and without foundation.
  8. Since there is every intention that these machines will be installed in clubs and other premises potentially serving alcohol and other inducements, yet further problems are likely to be created.
  9. The societal costs of the rollout of LPMs are going to be many, many times more than the benefits derived.
  10. The argument that it is now impossible to enact a roll back because of the promises made to certain quarters does not hold water. At whatever cost, it will be cheaper in the long run than the problems these machines will create.

In principle, GAGI will endorse any attempt to limit, roll back, or prohibit the introduction of legalized LPM's. We will oppose any clause designed to introduce these machines to our society.

Clauses relating to Online Gambling

In principle, GAGI will endorse any clause that prohibits the legalisation of online or interactive betting in our country. We believe that this is yet another form of gambling that cannot be controlled effectively in any manner or form and is a means to bring gambling problems directly into the home.

We will also endorse any clause that seeks to outlaw any forms of promotion or advertising of any online or interactive gambling.

We will oppose anything that seeks to have it legalized.

We endorse heavy legal sanction for any contravention.

Statement regarding Lotto

While we are aware that the Lottery is governed by the National Lotteries Act and not by this proposed bill, we believe it is important that the following is understood:

Statement Regarding Debt Trap relief

The following applies almost exclusively to the compulsive or addicted gambler who has chosen or been forced to admit defeat and choose recovery as an alternative way of life.

By the time someone is willing to seek help with their gambling problems, they are often at a point where life is virtually unbearable. They are in a huge debt trap from which they cannot escape without immediately thinking that further gambling is the only way out of their predicament. This in turn leads to further gambling and further damage, not only to themselves.

Adopting the perspective that such people are actually really very sick and that their sickness just happens to be money related, perhaps as a society we can accept that we do have some duty to help such people recover, provided ofcourse that they indicate a willingness to take the necessary steps. The following is proposed as a general scheme of arrangement as an alternative to liquidation or other more drastic measures and will hopefully achieve two key objectives

We would like to see a debt relief system implemented which contains substantially the following elements:

We believe that instead of writing such matters into the Act, that it would be a relatively simple matter to mandate the National Gambling Board to make recommendations in terms of such a proposed scheme, perhaps for inclusion in a later revision of the National Gambling Act.

The purpose of this statement is to draw attention to the plight of the problem gambler and to recognize that a special status needs to be accorded the person who is in dire financial difficulties - primarily because of his or her own bad choices, but also because he or she is quite literally in the grip of a disease beyond their ability to control.

In conclusion

The questions to be asked during the examination of this Bill are not those pertaining to the morality or evil of gambling.

But -

The extent to which we can answer these questions should ultimately determine our policies.

History is replete with examples of society implementing legalized gambling policies, only to have these reversed in the due course of time. Gambling problems do not come about overnight - they arise over extended periods. We have an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of history and implement appropriate policies now, before it becomes to late.

While our society and our constitution recognize freedom of choice for the individual, all policies need to be undertaken in a way that the good of the individual does not supercede that of the common good. We believe that the measures we have proposed and endorsed will help to strike a balance between the desires of the individual, business, society and the state.

Thank you.



Abt, V. & Smith, J F 1983 "On the social implications of commercial gambling: Is gambling just another form of play?", Arena Review, vol 7, no. 3. pp. 17-28

Goodman, R. (1995). The luck Business: The devastating consequences and broken promises of America's gambling explosion. New York: Free Press Paperbacks.

Walker, M Dr (1999) Australia's Gambling Industries, Critique of Ch16 of the Draft Report, University of Sydney

Kindt. R Prof (2000) The psycho-social risks and consequences of distributing slot machines to poor and disadvantaged communities

Philippe Vlaemminck, (2003) "Old Wine, New Bottles, The Anomar and Gambelli cases, and their effect on gaming in Europe"

Raven, M. (2001) "Gambling Problems in the Community: The limitations of a focus on Problem Gamblers" Flinders University


PUBLIC HEARING" Gambling and Financial Counselling Service, Lifeline Canberra Inc, Australia

Leahy, M (2002) "Editorial: When Gambling Becomes an Industry" Geelong Catholics, Australia

James C. Dobson, Ph.D. (1999) "Sounding the Alarm on Gambling" CizitzenLink

Sue Bradford MP, (2003) Green Party Gambling Spokesperson, "Gambling and Labour Government, General Debate, Parliament, 10th September 2003" New Zealand



The Following Information is kindly provided by the



Note: Escape Gamblers go through four phases also; however they are distinctly different.

The Winning Phase of Action Gamblers:

During the winning phase (frequently 3 to 5 years) of the disease, these gamblers won more often than they lost; probably had a "big win", an amount equal to at least a month's normal salary and sometimes as much as a year's normal salary or more. This winning phase and specifically, a major early win, justified to these gamblers their opinion of being smarter than others and, of course, superior gamblers. These gamblers frequently believe that they are capable of becoming "professional" gamblers and may even perceive themselves to be one.

As these gamblers progress through the winning phase, they begin to spend more time gambling, and begin to gamble more often and for larger amounts of money. Eventually, they begin to lose.

The Losing Phase:

In the losing phase, which usually lasts more than five years, the action gambler begins betting even larger amounts and gambling even more. He starts to believe that he is simply on a losing streak, and starts to double up on bets and to stay in hands when he knows he should fold. He bets on "longshots" which he knows don't have much of a chance but will pay big. He starts losing much more often than he wins. These frequent losses cause him to gamble even more in order to win back his losses.. (He is now "chasing" his losses). He borrows money with which to gamble; the lying has already begun; he must lie in order to cover his tracks. He must lie in order to convince people that he is still the "happy go lucky gambler," and all around "good guy." He begins to lie about everything, often when the truth would better serve him. He continues to boast about his skills at gambling; talks often about his wins, rarely about his losses.

At some point he has his first major "set-back." Deep in financial trouble, he may convince his family or employer of some phony major catastrophic disaster which requires a loan. He probably is able to obtain this first "bail-out," and probably asked for more than he needed to settle up his gambling losses, therefore, providing extra "gambling dollars". He considers that "bail-out" as a win. He is back in action and gambling even more feverishly than before.

These bailouts may occur numerous times; eventually, it is almost impossible to persuade others to again provide a loan. He seems to lose almost all the time now. His life has become unmanageable, and his family life is rapidly deteriorating.

The Desperation Phase:

The majority of the gambler's time is spent thinking about gambling, planning gambling or in action. He no longer has control over his gambling. In order to relieve the inner pain he must gamble; he knows he will lose, but it does not matter. His lying is completely out of control. When others don't believe his lies, he becomes angry with them, blaming others for his problems. He must obtain the money with which to gamble at all costs. His family is in shambles. They have possibly already left or are on the verge of leaving. Illegal activity may be occurring; the gambler may be embezzling money or stealing it in other ways. He will consider these as loans which will be paid back soon from the big win he believes he will have. He is still often able to present an outward appearance of being in control.

His wife and kids (if they are still there) are suffering in many ways: the rent or house payment is behind; the utilities may have even been turned off; few of the relatives even speak to them anymore; they are now on a cash only basis everywhere. Credit cards are "maxed"; the wife doesn't know what is wrong. She knows he is gambling. She knows he continually lies. She has heard him say a thousand times that he will stop, that everything will be okay. She is suffering from depression, but because she still has a sense of false pride, she doesn't want anyone to know how desperate they are, and pleads with him to just stop. Yet he still continues to gamble. She is afraid to answer the phone, fearing it will be still another bill collector, or worse, her relatives, wanting their money or wanting information. Their life is spiraling downward toward an unknown end. She is even frequently convinced that it is somehow her fault. The gambler often has an outward appearance, even at this stage, of being in total control. He is still convinced that everyone believes his lies. He even becomes angry when they don't. Outwardly he blames everyone but himself for the unfortunate circumstances now occurring. Inwardly, the gambler is in severe anguish. He truly loves his family and wants things to be like they used to be. He wants respect and stability, but he has to gamble. He can't tell you why, but he has to gamble. He has to be in action. He is living in a dream world, knowing he can't win. Punishing himself, he wants it to end. He thinks often about self destruction, and probably more often than most would like to believe, does commit suicide. He has to gamble because it is the only way he can relieve the pain.

His significant other's pride and lack of knowledge about the disorder will not allow her to face the fact that she must take action. It may take something like an arrest of the gambler, a suicide attempt, or some other traumatic event to take place before she finally offers an ultimatum or takes the kids and leaves the gambler.

Once the action gambler enters stage three of the disorder, the desperation phase, he and the escape gambler share many of the same symptoms. They no longer have any control over gambling. Gambling itself now has the control.

Action gamblers, more often than not, are forced into recovery only after they have exhausted all means of obtaining money with which to gamble (they are out of marbles.) Frequently they are facing legal problems. Their spouse or significant others force them into recovery with ultimatums, or their employer mandates a 12 step program. Often they are court ordered to a recovery program.

Very few "action" gamblers search out a recovery program of their own accord. Though many say they made the first call on their own, they usually later admit that it was at the prompting of someone else. Rarely do they seek professional help unless legal advice refers them, or their spouse gives an "or else" ultimatum.

When a typical action gambler enters a self help recovery program, he often believes that his family should immediately rally to his aide, expecting them to forgive him instantly for his misdeeds. He frequently still blames others for his actions, and usually does not face the facts squarely. Often he wears the fact that he has stopped gambling as a badge of honor and his ego is once again inflated. Not taking the recovery program seriously, he only stops gambling. He does not involve himself in the recovery program and before long, after a few meetings, after he has convinced his family that he is once again a "hero," he stops attending the program. Before you can wink an eye he is back out gambling and back into phase three of the disease on a progressive slide downward, right where he left off. After this relapse, again out of marbles, he returns to the recovery program and may finally take his gambling disease seriously.

When this occurs, he has a better chance at recovery. Yet, often the action gambler attends meeting, gambles, returns to meetings, gambles and this cycle may last for years. This type of periodic recovery and periodic compulsive gambling often leads to criminal activity and imprisonment or even death.

The Hopeless Phase:

Until recently only three phases of pathological gambling have been noted. Many clinicians and experts who treat pathological gamblers now say a fourth phase exists for both action and escape gamblers.

Once the gambler has been through the desperation phase, it would seem that everything bad had occurred. However in the hopeless phase, both types of pathological gamblers have "given up". They believe nothing can help, they don't care if they live or die, in fact for many the latter is the preference. They will all consider suicide during this phase. Most will commit actions which could place them in jail or prison. Clinical depression is a given. In their minds, no one cares, no hope is available.

The hopeless phase is the time when the pathological gambler either gets help or ends with suicide or prison.


Approximately 2 to 2-1/2% of action pathological gamblers succeed in remaining in recovery for the first year; rarely does the action gambler remain in recovery for five years (these percentages reflect only gamblers seeking assistance in programs with which I am familiar.)

Recovery among action gamblers is much higher when: the gambler receives help through a professional provider who is trained and certified in the addiction of pathological gambling and completes the program; the family is involved in treatment, and the gambler and his spouse enter and continue in a twelve step recovery program. (Recovery in this instance means not gambling for at least one year).





"Escape" Gambler:(also called late-on-set gamblers): Gambling was not a problem until predisposing factors appeared( see Predisposing Factors handout); plays "luck" games e.g. Bingo, lottery, slot or video poker or kino machines; gambles first as recreation then as "escape" from problems.

Not every escape gambler will experience all of the symptoms or progress through the symptoms of a phase in the same order or at the same rate. Some may return to a previous stage for a short period of time. This is often seen after a bailout has occurred.(bailout: friends or family may pay off loans or bills in an attempt to help the gambler get back on track)


Winning "phase"is not an appropriate term for what happens to escape gamblers. They may have gambled socially at some time in their life with no adverse consequences or they may never have gambled before. Many report knowing they were "in trouble" after their first gambling experience following predisposing factors . Characteristics may include:

....SEVERAL SMALL OR EVEN LARGE MONETARY WINNING "EPISODES." Although money is usually secondary for escape gamblers, they may see gambling as a way to solve financial difficulties, become financially independent or make extra money after these winning episodes.

....EMOTIONAL ESCAPE from life's problems experienced while in the act of gambling is the sole "win" identified by many escape gamblers. Money just means they can play longer- escape longer. Many experience a mood altering euphoria while at a machine.

....SELF-ESTEEM BOOST that comes from a FALSE SENSE OF EMPOWERMENT as they experience an "it's my turn" feeling without family members present to make demands on their time and energy is another "win" reported by escape gamblers.

....INDEPENDENCE is yet another intoxicating "win" especially if they are in a relationship where the spouse or significant other is domineering or controlling or if physical ailments or disabilities keep them from a "normal" life.

....EXCITEMENT AND LIVING ON THE EDGE is another feeling that may be present.

....SOCIAL INTERACTION at the casino reportedly fills the void by many who suffer from loneliness.







         LYING TO COVER MONEY SPENT-------------- BEHIND IN BILLS ----------------- BORROWING MONEY








(Most women hit this phase 1 to 3 years from the onset of gambling.)