SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - Gambling can seem like all fun and games, but to many more than you may realize, it's problem they need help with. However, surprisingly few people actually seek that help.
To kick off Responsible Gaming Week, we talked to one recovering gambling addict in Shreveport. She didn't want to be identified, so for the purposes of this story, her name will be "Ashley."
"My whole family gambles. Since I was knee-high, I can remember looking up at a table and they'd be playing and smoking," says Ashley. "Once I was 18 years old, my first birthday gift was $300 for the casino."
She tells us as she got older, she gambled more and more. It started to spiral out of control in 2007. She says a rocky marriage was a big factor.
"It wasn't this rush, it's so exciting and fun. Initially it was, but it was more just to be able to shut my brain down and not think about anything."
Slot machines were her thing. She won big, but lost bigger. Since 2007, she tells us she's lost $70,000.
"Before you knew it, I went back to the ATM and I couldn't get any more money out. That for me was my bottom," she says.
That night, she called for help. She's now in the residential program at the Center of Recovery in Shreveport, or CORE.
"Everybody that enters treatment knows they have a problem and yet the very nature of this to act like I need no help. And yet they absolutely have no idea how to take care of a problem, or they would have," says CORE Program Director Janet Miller.
Gambling is a multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, Louisiana casinos raked in more than $200 million in June.
Reece Middleton, with the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling says about five to seven percent of people who gamble are what he calls problem gamblers.
" ...if it creates a problem, it is a problem. By creating a problem, I mean if there's some difficulty in a major life area such as psychological, legal, occupational, social, physical, and I think spiritual."
He says they work with casinos to keep problem gamblers from becoming full-out addicts.
"At the end of the day, we want our customers to gamble for the right reason and that's to have fun," says Horseshoe Casino Vice President of Marketing Chris Volle.
He says they have a few things in place to encourage responsible gaming.
"One would be Operation Bet Smart, which allows our employees to identify and provide assistance to individuals who may have or show signs of problem gambling."
Employees have to re-certify every year for Operation Bet Smart. The casino also has a program aimed at training employees to spot customers who appear to be under 30 years old and ask for their identification. And another is a program that reminds parents not to leave their children unattended to go to the casino.
However, some options are out of their hands.
"Those include exclusion from marketing materials. They can exclude themselves from check cashing privileges, or they can even exclude themselves from gambling at our facilities," Volle says.
Janet Miller shares a few things that could signal your friend or loved one has a problem.
"...Noticing that that's kind of their way of always wanting to have recreational activity is let's go gamble, let's go play some poker at the house, and they're always geared toward some form of betting," Miller says. "The main thing you'll see with everybody no matter if they're wealthy or poor in gambling is they all lie about it. Why would you lie about something if it's not a problem?"
If you think someone you know has a problem, Miller says gently nudge them to call the help line.
"Oftentimes some people will say, and it's the nature of this disorder, 'oh yeah I called them.' What I think is better is when you're with the person in the presence of them and put it on speaker phone or call with the person or go into the session with them so they're kept accountable to truth, as well as receiving help."
And if you think it's you who has the problem, "Ashley" has some advice for you.
"First you have to say hey I have a serious problem. Once you do that, you have to learn that the gambling is just a side effect of whatever is going on in your life."
She's faced her issues head on at CORE, and says she's now optimistic about life and her family.
"To show them that there's another way, I think is going to be real beneficial."
And she has one piece of parting advice.
"..they'll think they can stop. And every time they do it again, there's remorse or guilt. When they finally put their foot down and say look I have a problem...it's ok. You're not better than this. This will consume you."
There's plenty of help available for gambling addicts. Here are a few links to get you connected to that help: