National experts discuss problem gambling

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Problem gamblers are often looking for an escape from daily life, says one former addict.

''Gambling was never my problem, life was my problem,'' said Carol O'Hare, a former compulsive gambler who is now the executive director for the not-for-profit Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

O'Hare was part of Monday's panel of experts that gathered in Las Vegas to address casino industry employees on how to spot problem gamblers. The panel was sponsored by the American Gaming Association.

Millions of people who come to Las Vegas set a limit when it comes to gambling, said Punam Mathur, director of government and community affairs for MGM Mirage.

''But we are fully aware there is a small segment of the American public that can't gamble responsibly,'' she added.

That's why the casino industry trains its employees to let customers know there are treatment programs, Mother said.

Another panelist said the segment of the population that is classified as pathological gamblers is about 1 percent.

''Another 2 or 3 percent have a lesser problem,'' said Dr. Howard Shaffer, director of the Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions.

Causes of compulsive gambling range from biological to psychological to social, Shaffer said.

''It's not just a casino disorder, it's an everyday life disorder,'' he said referring to bingo and lottery players and those who bet on horse races and sports.

The three main characteristics of a compulsive gambler are: ''the craving to gamble, losing control and continuing to do it despite adverse consequences,'' Shaffer said.

A social gambler sets the amount of money and time they are willing to spend gambling.

''They don't gamble at inappropriate times and they don't suffer harmful effects beyond normal losses,'' O'Hare said.

It is helpful for gambling industry employees to be able to spot problem gambling indicators and understand the issues surrounding compulsive gambling, Mathur said.

''There is a fine line,'' she said. ''These are our customers. Our employees are not therapists and we don't want them to be. But if they see someone who is hurting, we encourage them to make the link and point out there's a phone number.''

The number Mathur is referring to is a toll-free gambling hotline for those who feel like they are in trouble. The number is supported financially in part by the casino industry, she said.

''Every individual makes a choice to gamble,'' O'Hare said. If someone begins to realize they have a problem, the next step is to point them toward help, she said.

Besides the problem gambling hot line, opportunities for help include Gambler's Anonymous and treatment programs.

''If a customer indicates he's hungry, an employee will tell them where they can get something to eat,'' O'Hare explained. ''If a person is not having fun, it's as simple as saying here's the information.''


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