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All Bets Are Off

Peter White chats to Arnie Wexler, ICGC, Author and Problem Gambling Consultant

On April 10, 1968 Arnie Wexler placed his last bet. A recovering addict for over 50 years now, he helped start the National Council Compulsive Gambling (now the National Council for Problem Gambling). From 1986 to 1994 he headed the New Jersey Council for Compulsive Gaming. Then, in 1994, he and his wife Sheila struck out independently in the field of treating compulsive gamblers, Arnie & Sheila Wexler Associates. In that capacity, the Wexlers have trained over 40,000 casino executives and employees and written the first responsible-gambling program for the gaming industry.

Can you define the conduct and actions that, in your opinion, distinguish an addicted gambler from someone who likes to gamble?

When the gambling controls you that’s gambling addiction. The addicted gamblers can’t stop or walk away.

Compulsive gambling is a progressive disease, much like an addiction to alcohol or drugs. In many cases, the gambling addiction is hidden until the gambler becomes unable to function without gambling, and he or she begins to exclude all other activities from their lives. Inability to stop gambling often results in financial devastation, broken homes, employment problems, criminal acts and suicide attempts.

The gambler is eventually able to remove themselves from reality to the point of being totally obsessed with gambling. Eventually, they will do anything to get the money with which to stay in “action”. They will spend all their time and energy developing schemes in order to get the money to continue gambling. Lying becomes a way of life for the gambler.

They will try to convince others and themselves that their lies are actually truths and they will believe their own lies. After they hit a real bottom they will have to do something if they want to try to recover. Most gamblers at that point will want to stop but can’t. They won’t be able.

Most even at that point will keep gambling. Some will end up in jail. Some will attempt suicide. Some will die from their addiction, as they will not take care of their health or the stress will kill them. And a small group of addicted gamblers will seek and find real help but the real trick is to get in to real recovery. Not just abstinence. By the time the gambler comes for help they have broken brains — their brains don’t work like they used to prior to their addiction.

To get real recovery the gambler needs to work on themselves one day at a time and get someone who has been in recovery some time to do their thinking for them — a sponsor. After some time in recovery their brains will start to work again. They will become productive on their job and become a good father and husband. Recovery is a process and does not happen without a lot of work on yourself, and making a moral and financial inventory. But people can recover and do.

Given you have extensive experience of gambling addiction can you therefore provide those that enjoy gambling advice on how to continue and remain in control?

If you are an addicted gambler you will never get control.

What, in your opinion, is the difference between a Wall Street broker dealing on the stock exchange and them betting on the outcome of a horse race or football match?

The stock market is the biggest roulette wheel. I started gambling in the stock market at age 15. I also did illegal things in the market until I stopped gambling at age 30. A good thing there were not computers back then or I would have gone to jail.

Professional golfers, football players, schoolteachers, doctors — is there any profession or lifestyle that is fool proof against gambling addiction or can it hit anyone no matter what profession they are in?

I have gotten many calls from all of them over the years and treated some of them. The problem is always they don’t want people to know, so they hide and won’t go to Gamblers Anonymous meetings where the help is and don’t want people to know. We have also treated pro players in every sport and people in high public office — lots of gamblers have sales jobs, so they have free time to gamble.

At what point in your life did you think that you wanted to make a career out of helping problem gamblers?

Very early on in my recovery. I know today it kept me in my recovery. I see the people who do stay in recovery, and the people who don’t and go back to gambling. Helping others seems to be one of the keys to recovery.

Can you explain to readers an outline of what is involved in your training programs that you host for casino employees?

We tell our story of my gambling and Sheila tells about how it was to live with me the seven years before I got into recovery. We share about casino workers and gamblers that have come to us for help about things that the casinos can do: what they see and how to do the right things when they see gambling addiction. And there are always lots of questions from the workers. There are lots of casino workers who are compulsive gamblers-might be a bigger problem behind the table than in front of the table

How do you manage time to also operate a toll-free helpline, and have you found that those that make the call are in a similar pattern of behaviour?

Yes, we get calls and e-mails every day from gamblers and family members looking for help.

You and your wife are also consultants at a private residential treatment facility for adults with drug-and-alcohol dependency and problem gambling.

We have worked for a lot of treatment centers and help them to set up gambling-treatment programs.

Are there any signs people can tell whether a friend, work colleague or relative is getting into gambling too heavily and is there anything they can say or do that can make a difference?

Most gamblers will not think they have a gambling problem. They think and dream the next bet is going to turn into a winning streak. You can’t see it like drinking and drugs: no track marks, no smell or dilated pupils, Gamblers don’t fall down or pass out. Some family member would have no idea they even have a gambler in the family until they hit a real bottom.

Over the years have you any idea of how many people you have treated in that time?

Nope. I would guess my wife and i have spoken to more family members and gamblers over the years than anyone else, as I started the first help line that was in all casinos in New Jersey and we now have 888-LAST BET and get calls and e-mails from all over the world.

Do you think society in general should be better informed of the potential hazards of gambling as they are with smoking and drinking?

For sure. It’s even a problem when a gambler wants to go for treatment. They are busted out and have no money left. The family has been bailing out the gambler for years and won’t pay for treatment, and the insurance people in most cases won’t pay for gambling treatment.

For the vast majority of adults that gamble it is a fun enjoyable pastime, wouldn’t you agree?

Yes, that is true, but if you have the gene of gambling addiction you will destroy yourself and everyone in the family. We don’t know the true percentage of gambling addiction

How can those interested to find out more about your books and counselling consultancy services get in contact with you?

See our book All Bets Are Off or call 888-LAST BET or surf the Internet to www.aswexler.com. aswexler@aol.com