Exposing the Dark Side of Gambling Addiction
Read more about Debbie and John's's Story: A Young Lawyer and His Family's Struggle with Gambling Addiction.

Debbie and John's's Letters to the Missouri Senate

The Cost of Removing the $500 Loss Limit is Too High

Dear Senator:

Along with my husband (who has written separately) I am disappointed that I could not personally offer testimony at the hearing on SB430 that took place two weeks ago. We did not get word of the hearing in time to make the trip from Kansas City. Rest assured, this matter is personally important enough to my family and me that we would have made every effort to do so.

When you vote on SB430, please consider the devastation and despair that gambling has caused our family. I know that gambling will probably never "go away" so instead, my focus is on what can be done to minimize the harm that gambling has, is currently and undoubtedly will continue to cause in the future. One such way that the harm can be tempered is to keep the loss limit in place.

As you, along with other lawmakers read our story, I plead with you from the bottom of my heart to consider the more than 60,000 families in Missouri alone who are adversely and severely devastated due to a loved one's addiction to gambling. By the grace of God, my husband is no longer gambling and we have recovered emotionally, financially and physically from depths that no one would ever want to reach. I guess it would be easy to just sit back and be thankful that we, unlike most, are back to living a "normal" life. Please know that I am pleading with you on behalf of other families and individuals to look beyond the surface of what seemingly is a good scholarship program and to look at the great harm and further destruction that will be caused by removing the loss limit.

Is the additional revenue that will be raised by removing the loss limit worth more than the additional destruction that will surely follow? At what cost is the government ? my government ? willing to sacrifice in exchange for additional funding from the casinos? How many suicides is this additional funding worth? How many divorces; how much family violence? How many bankruptcies? How much crime by otherwise upstanding citizens has to be committed before the cost is too high? A fair and impartial reflection into the absolute destruction and travesty that gambling caused on our family alone should be enough to make anyone realize that gambling is not just "harmless entertainment" even with the loss limits in place. God forbid the level of destruction that will occur without such limitations.

Sincerely yours,

Debbie Clayton

Dear Senator:

My name is John Clayton. Just like many of you who will read my letter, I am a grandson, son and brother; a husband and father; a friend. Unlike many of you, I am one of the increasing number of persons in this country, but more relevantly in this state, to suffer from a devastating and demoralizing addiction to casino gambling. I respectfully and genuinely request that you consider my experience and my story when contemplating the enactment of Senate Bill 430 or any other legislation to remove the "loss limit" currently in place.

The purpose of my letter today is not to try and convince anyone that gambling should be illegal; nor is it my goal to criticize or condemn those who support legalized gaming in our state. Rather, I am here simply to offer my personal story (which is available in a separate document as written together by my wife and me.) It is my hope that I can personalize to you the dire consequences that gambling can, does and will continue to have on individuals, on people who have entrusted you to act in their best interests.

Please act in the best interests of your constituents ? your grandchildren, your children, your siblings, your spouse, your friends – in opposing Senate Bill 430 creating the "Smart Start Scholarship Program". While I am certainly a proponent of higher education, this bill as proposed is simply a guise to allow the repeal of the maximum loss limit of $500.00 per individual player per gambling "excursion".

Let's face it – the crux of the matter is whether or not it is in the best interests of the citizens of the State of Missouri to remove the loss limit, which was put in place at the outset of legislation allowing for legalized gambling in Missouri. Certainly the reasoning and purpose of the loss limit has not changed. On the contrary, the growing number of addictive and problem gamblers only strengthens such reasoning.

As one who gambled well above my means for more than 8 years (from 1993 to 2001), I can personally confirm that the existence of the loss limit often times "cramped my style" during my years as a compulsive gambler in the various casinos throughout this state. My "style" after only a few years was to "play big to win big". The problem with that approach was that I did not have the financial means to do so. Even as an attorney, making an income that would certainly place me in the upper-middle to upper income class, I could not afford to lose $500 dollars per day, much less $500 every two hours at the casino. An overwhelming majority of those gambling at the casino have even less "means" than I had at the time. What the loss limit did do was to broaden the amount of time in which my money would disappear. While the loss limit did not lessen my addiction to gambling, it most certainly lessened the amount of money that I could/ would lose in a given day. There were many times that I had to quit gambling for the day ? not because I didn?t have a strong urge to continue gambling, but rather because I did not have the time to wait an hour and a half or an hour to be able to obtain more tokens or chips. The loss limit served its purpose ? the effect of my addiction was lessened.

Something else to which I can personally attest is that without the loss limit in place, my family would have lost our home, our cars and other possessions, which by the grace of God we did not lose. The amount of money that I embezzled in order to sustain my gambling addiction would have been significantly greater. My desire to commit suicide would most likely have been heightened and quite possible executed had the amounts of money lost been more devastating than they already were. As a general rule, we are already a debt ridden society – shouldn't the government be encouraging financial responsibility and self control not irresponsibility. If the purpose of legalized casino gambling is entertainment value, then no reasonable and responsible person would or should spend more than $500 for 2 hours of "entertainment". To encourage or even allow a person to do so is not responsible government. If the loss limit is removed, only a small group of entrepreneurs (the multi-billion dollar casino industry) and the government are enriched. The removal of the loss limit only exploits the gambling addict ? at the expense of their families, employers and others involved in their lives.

Lastly, please know that my gambling addiction first took hold on the blackjack tables, then the craps tables, followed by quarter slots and video poker and ended with the dollar and five dollar slots and video poker. Why the progression to video games? It was the action and speed of the machines that most satisfied my increasing desire for that adrenaline rush. The hypnotic effect, visual stimuli, the repetitive pattern of betting and instant outcome offered me a complete withdrawal into my own fantasy world that other gaming did not seem to do. When I was winning, I would sit for hours (sometimes 12-14 hours at a time) playing hand after hand of video poker. I was truly hypnotized by the machine. What the loss limit provided was a break from that hypnotic trance ? an unwelcome break for the addict, but a protective break that I am now thankful existed.

Shouldn't our government be committed to promoting public good rather than teaming with the self-serving interests of the casino industry in luring its own citizens to gamble more, to risk more and in the case of the addict to hasten the inevitable destruction that awaits its prey? Certainly suicide, divorce, family violence, personal and corporate bankruptcy, and the crimes committed by the gambling addict are not in the public's best interest. Everyone would be outraged, and certainly not many members of our state government would even consider a committee hearing to tax or otherwise collect revenues from drug dealers under the premise of increasing funding for education or some other "public good". Why should this similarly addictive and destructive vice be viewed any differently?

As a father of four who will someday be in college, I strongly urge you to enact scholarship programs and grants to make their college education more affordable in the future. However, I urge you to do so in stand-alone legislation. My personal experience suggests that the cost of tying such legislation to a removal of the loss limit (or otherwise to gaming at all) is much too high.

Respectfully yours,

John Clayton