Exposing the Dark Side of Gambling Addiction


By Annie Mueller
For Casino Watch Foundation

We usually think of gambling problems in terms of dollars and cents, resulting in massive debt accumulation, bankruptcy, and the like. An even more fundamental resource is laid down at the altar of gambling: the physical and mental health of the gambler. Gambling addiction is a more subtle threat than alcoholism or other substance abuse. There are no tell-tale signs, no breath tests or needle marks that indicate a compulsion likely to produce such drastic physical effects. But the effects are real and serious.

The New England Journal of Medicine calls pathological gambling "one of the fastest growing mental health problems in the western world" (10.5.00). This mental health problem has severe repercussions on the body. The Oregon Department of Human Services finds that problem gamblers are not only "at increased risk of depression, anti-social personality disorder, phobias and chemical dependency" but also have a higher likelihood of suffering from "cardiac arrest due to stress and hypertension... migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, insomnia, gastric reflux, and sexual dysfunction ". A study of public health effects of casinos in Contra Costa County, California, predicts that one casino in the area will produce around 11 emergency room visits per day, as reported in the Mercury News (7.30.05).

The physical effects of gambling do not stop with the gambler. Mark Griffith, a professor of gambling studies, reports in the British Medical Journal that "[a]dverse health consequences for the gambler and his or her partner include depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraine, and other stress related disorders" ( 11.6.04, emphasis added).

How much more disturbing to consider the health problems incurred from the violence of spouse and child abuse, both of which are shown to increase as gambling increases. The stories of children locked in cars in casino parking lots while their parents gamble inside are not just for dramatic effect. This kind of thing happens more often than anybody – especially those who profit from casinos – wants to admit. The whole family changes fundamentally. Children lose their security, spouses lose their companionship, and gamblers lose their lives.

The California Council on Problem Gambling finds 20 percent of pathological gamblers attempt suicide, and almost all consider it. According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health, spouses of gamblers are three times more likely to commit suicide than the general population and children of compulsive gamblers attempt suicide twice as often as their classmates. How much "economic benefit" from gambling does it take to replace a lost human life? Most gamblers lose far more than they win, not just in dollar amount but in very quality of life. Can any jackpot ever justify that sacrifice?