Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc.

ARIZONA HELPLINE 1-800-777-7207


Escape Gambler


Prior to 1993, most Arizona gamblers who wished to gamble at casinos made a trek to Nevada. They left their money there but brought their problems home to Arizona. With Indian gaming, a substantial portion of casino revenue now stays in Arizona and most of the casino gambler's dollars are used for good purposes: to create jobs, provide education, and induce more tourists to come to Arizona.

However, as casino gambling became available in Arizona, more and more of its citizens crossed over the line from recreational gambling into perhaps the most insidious of all addictions -- compulsive gambling. During the first years of the Lottery, followed by the emergence of tribal casinos in Arizona, we saw an epidemic of Escape compulsive gamblers reaching out for help. Since then, we have learned a great deal about the Escape gambler, a much different type of gambler than the traditional Action gambler. As a result of this information, we provide this overview of the typical "Escape" compulsive gambler.


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 these 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 do, attempt to self-medicate or escape from the trauma (make themselves feel better).

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, bingo or whatever type of gambling they became addicted to.

A 12-step program, in time, can lead to a better way of coping with the past as well as the present. Most 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 which underlie the addiction.


Most escape gamblers begin by visiting a casino with friends or family once or twice as a social event, an opportunity to take a break from their problems and "have some fun". In other words, they gamble for recreation. However a few quickly step over the line into compulsive escape gambling. They rapidly fly through what is often referred to as the "winning" phase. However, for escape gamblers who gamble at games of luck, no winning phase exists. It is more like an Introductory Phase. On occasion there are winning episodes, but not phases. They may or may not have a big monetary win. For them, "winning" may have to do more with the empowerment that comes from entering a world which is free from outside controlling factors which provides a narcotic-like relief or escape from their worries. They are into Phase Two, the chasing stage, almost immediately and reach the third phase of desperation and fourth phase, hopelessness, within two to three years. They often seek professional counseling prior to attending their first self help meeting.