HISTORY OF ESCAPE GAMBLING IN ARIZONA
The only way to assess the early days of compulsive
gambling in Arizona is to look at the status of Gamblers Anonymous in
our state. Prior to the early 1990s, the only people who walked through GA's doors and stayed were men. It was assumed that all fit the profile
of the men who started GA, what we now call the Action gambler. "He"
usually had started gambling in his teens and played skill games such
as cards or track betting. He didn't attempt to stop gambling until
forced into recovery by a spouse, employer or probation officer -- often
after 10 to 30 years of gambling compulsively. If there were what we
now call escape or late-onset gamblers among these early members, the distinction
Prior to 1981, public gambling was considered socially
unacceptable for women with the exception of local bingo halls. In fact,
the first gambling available to the public on Indian Reservations was
bingo. Then the Arizona Lottery introduced the first single scratch
ticket. The Pick and Lotto soon followed and tens of millions of dollars
worth of advertising convinced many that, "You gotta play to win."
By the time tribal casinos were introduced in the late 1980s, the climate
of acceptability had been established: it was not only okay for everyone
to gamble, it was almost one's civic duty! Not only could women gamble
at their convenience market or grocery store, they could go to a casino
in groups or even alone. And the casinos offered the very games preferred
by most Escape gamblers: bingo, slot machines, video poker and kino
machines. In the mid 1990s when gambling became available on the internet,
it provided another gambling venue for both Escape and Action gamblers.
As with many steps toward gender equity, women began
to pay a price: they too found themselves in increasing
numbers becoming addicted to gambling. When they arrived at GA, it seemed
obvious that most women gambled differently than men. Rather than action or excitement, they sought relief and escape. The difference was attributed to gender.
As the years passed, it became evident that the
differences between the two types of gamblers as a gender issue was
a misinterpretation. The accessibility
of casino type gambling is affecting men who had no previous history
of gambling or compulsive gambling in the same way it affects women.
Perhaps the least previously identified (and understood) compulsive
gambler was the male escape gambler.
Women gamblers finally found their way into recovery
in the greater Phoenix area by starting their own GA meeting. These
meetings seem to be almost essential in areas where GA has already been
established and is male dominated. As women gained recovery in their
meeting, they attended the other rooms in two's and three's. Their "therapy"
rang true for many men and helped pave the way for the male escape gambler
to better understand his disease. Today women account for an estimated
50% of the membership of the GA rooms in the Phoenix area and the vast
majority of gamblers presenting for clinical care are women. Escape
Gamblers are now the majority of gamblers seeking help for problems
associated with gambling.
PROFILE OF ESCAPE GAMBLERS
Most Escape gamblers have been nurturing, caring responsible
people for most of their lives. For the most part, they are not egotistical,
have no indications of narcissism and are not outgoing. They appear
to be "normal" and have an almost exact opposite character
profile than that of the Action gambler.
During their lives, various psychological traumas have
occurred. These individuals frequently suppress negative feelings and
do not deal with them. As time goes by and the traumas increase, a single
traumatic event may take place which causes situational or clinical
depression. Friends and relatives of the person become aware of the
depression of the person.
After the predisposing factors come to the surface,
depression is prevalent. The individual will often do what most people
do -- attempt to self-medicate or escape from the trauma (to make themselves
These individuals are prone to use drugs, food, sex,
alcohol or gambling as a way to self-medicate. Often, a friend or family
member will suggest to the individual that they do something "fun"
to help forget about the problems.
When they choose gambling, the individual will realize
that the act of gambling does help them forget about and escape from
their problems. The individual may become addicted to gambling the first
time they gamble and the progression of the disorder begins.
Escape gamblers literally get "relief"
or "escape" from psychological and emotional pain. Many are
actually afraid to stop gambling because they have no confidence they
will be able to endure the pain they fear will come when they stop medicating
themselves with their drug of choice, gambling. A drug addict is rarely
expected to quit "cold turkey." The gambling addict must be
offered the hope of an alternative way of dealing with the underlying
factors that led them to want the escape-at-all-cost anesthetizing quality
of slot machines, video poker, keno or bingo.
A 12-step program, in time, can lead to
a better way of coping with the past as well as the present. Most escape
compulsive gamblers would benefit from therapy by a certified compulsive
gambling counselor, outpatient treatment, or even intensive inpatient
treatment to help them deal with the sometimes excruciating pain of
facing reality and addressing the issues that underlie the addiction.