I didn’t add a post last week because I did not want to take the focus off Randy Pausch’s lecture.
It was also an emotional week for me. My cousin Sam died. He was a great man. The Pausch lecture said so much about how to live one’s life to the fullest (as did Sam) that I wanted to leave it front and center for a little while longer.
Now back to less existential matters.
In this week’s post, I am quoting my last Metro column entitled, “I bet you won’t read this.” It is an editorial on government sponsored gambling.
It seems that we can’t get away from the marketing of games of chance. From simple lotteries, to popular jingles for casinos, from popular game shows such as Deal or No Deal, to Texas Hold’em tournaments on every sports channel, gambling is everywhere.
In the ten years that I worked in the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Unit of the Douglas, we were never referred a problem gambler for treatment, despite being experts in habit control techniques. Our closing coincided with the opening of the Montreal Casino. Since I was the only one left after our closure, I became the default filterer of phone calls looking for help. Referrals for the treatment of gambling problems went from non-existent to being the single most popular requests.
While my anecdotal observation is by no means a scientific survey, no one can really be surprised by an increase in the incidence of problem gambling since the opening of the casino. It is a simple question of stimulus control.Gambling has existed for centuries. Clearly, some people will indulge no matter what. Others have so little interest that they will never gamble. But the problem is that there is a large group that would gamble when exposed to it. By making it available so easily, we have created one horror story after another. (I wrote about motivation and how it can be understood in “Who feels like being motivated” in December, 2006).
I decided to write only one of many possible stories. Richard’s story is the consequence of the introduction of VLTs, which have been dubbed the “Crack cocaine of gambling” because of their highly addictive nature. But I could have also chosen from a number of equally sad stories of good people whose lives were totally disrupted by gambling.
I bet you won’t read this (Source: Je gage que n’allez pas lire ceci; Journal Métro, February 26, 2008)
Would you place a fresh pizza and a slice of chocolate cake in front of an overweight person and not expect him to touch any of it? Would you put a line of cocaine and a rolled up twenty-dollar bill in front of a drug abuser and not expect him to indulge? Why then are we surprised by the number of problem gamblers all around us?
Richard was a great man. His compassionate and understanding nature was obvious from the moment you spoke to him. He was a skilled chef with a highly successful catering business. He was also extremely talented with a singing voice as powerful as that of Pavarotti. Everybody loved Richard.
Then came video lottery terminals. The problems were not immediately obvious, a little loan here and there to help pay for a new piece of equipment, a minor problem with lost receipts. Pretty soon, people began to ask questions. Hundreds of thousands were lost, mostly the money of loving and trusted family members. He burnt so many bridges that he was eventually estranged from his wife, his three children, and everyone that ever mattered to him. Everybody hates Richard.
After treating gambling like a crime for so long, governments now rely heavily on this cash cow as a major source of revenue (hmm, didn’t the Corleones also do the same thing in The Godfather?). The social problems it creates are obvious.
Lotto Quebec recently failed in their efforts to prevent reports of suicides on the casino grounds from reaching the public. But we didn’t really need to see those files to know that gambling ruins lives. The exact number of suicides caused by problem gambling is irrelevant. Even one is too many. The additional social costs are less often mentioned; things like ruined families, depression, or squandered life savings. Richard’s story is but a simple blip on the large statistical portrait.
Whose fault is it anyway?
We all have free will and it can be argued that problem gamblers have only themselves to blame. However, our behaviour is affected not only by internal desires, but also by the presence of stimuli in our environment. Lotto Quebec has ensured that we cannot walk into a dépanneur without being bombarded by enticements of quick fortunes and the promise of a better life. If a few of us develop problem gambling as a result, and a few lives are ruined, well so be it. Our governments will spend some money on posters and awareness campaigns. That ought to take care of any problem that public gambling has created! It would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.
03 Mar 2008