Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc.

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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 the GA doors and stayed were men. It was assumed they all fit the profile of those 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 them, the distinction went unnoticed.

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 for their equality: they too found themselves in increasing numbers becoming addicted to gambling. When they arrived at GA, it seemed obvious: most women gambled differently than men. As the years pass, it is now easier to see that the differences between the two types of gamblers as a gender issue was a misinterpretation of what was happening. Even our council first wrote of the differences in the way men and women gamble. We now understand that this is not a gender issue (although women do seem to do better in early recovery by attending women only meetings). 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 least understood compulsive gambler of all was the Male Escape gambler.

omen 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 40% 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.
Originally written by Don Hulen in 1994

Latest Revision: September 2011
Contributors: Paula Burns, Ricky Brumfield, Pam Koopman

Reading Note: Although the pronoun "he" is used to describe the Action gambler and the Escape gambler is referred to as "she," this is NOT intended to imply that ALL action compulsive gamblers are male nor that ALL escape compulsive gamblers are female.