Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc.

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Inside the Mind

INSIDE THE MIND OF THE ESCAPE GAMBLER

In 1999, 73% of all calls to the ACCG 1-800-helpline were from or about Escape gamblers.  Of the callers who identified themselves as Escape gamblers, 94% were women and 49% were men.


Prior to 1993, most Arizona gamblers wishing to gamble at casinos made the trek to Nevada, left their money there, but brought their problems home to Arizona. Now, a substantial amount of those casino gambling dollars stay in Arizona. 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 more gambling became available and more Arizona citizens accessed it, more crossed the line from recreational gambling into the throes of perhaps the most insidious of all addictions, compulsive gambling. During these first years of tribal casinos, we saw an epidemic of escape compulsive gamblers reaching out for help. We have learned a great deal about the escape gamblers who become addicted to Arizona casino gambling, the Lottery and, most recently, internet gambling.

Typically, the escape gambler becomes enthralled with playing the slot, video poker, live keno or keno machine. It is exciting, it is fun, it does not talk back, it requires her full concentration. She has to pay attention to the results of each roll; keep pushing the button or pulling the arm; She does not have time to think about her problems. After just a brief period of time at the machine, an almost hypnotic trance occurs. She realizes she has found a way to completely forget about all problems in her life. She feels comfortable, happy, and free from turmoil. She may later report that, in retrospect, she realizes she was "hooked" the very first time she played.


The next time she has an opportunity to return to the machine, she has immediate relief from her problems. By the second or third visit she no longer goes with friends or family. They want to leave after awhile; she does not. She begins to go to the casino alone, stays for longer periods of time, goes to the casino more often and may graduate rapidly to the dollar machine. While at the machine, she does not have to worry about anything except how to stay longer and play more often. No one is telling her what to do, no phone calls, no one wanting this or wanting that, no demands, just freedom. Social needs are met. The change girl and other gamblers begin to know her and call her by name; she makes friends with other "regulars;" consequently, she begins to feel very comfortable while at the casino. Other problems are forgotten and she is having fun. She has selected a favorite machine. There are also second and third favorites. The gambler begins to call it "her" machine. If she goes to the casino and someone else is at her machine, she is angry. She will go to her second machine, but would much rather be at her "own" machine. She may talk to the machine, telling it to "come on, pay up", or swear at it, and thank it when it pays, but she will usually go back to her machine time after time. A lady recently said that she accused her machine of infidelity when she saw another lady win a jackpot at it. However, as soon as the winner left, she immediately returned to her machine, forgave its infidelity and continued the affair. Relationships with a machine are very real.


She begins to make plans about her next gambling trip, always specific about how much money she will gamble with, and how long she will stay. She vows that as soon as the money is gone or the time is up she plans on leaving. However, as soon as she sits down at the machine a trance like hypnotic effect takes place. She pulls the handle or pushes the button and all plans are abandoned. She will stay at the machine, often not even getting up to use the bathroom or eat, only leaving her machine to go to the ATM or to write a check, asking an employee or another gambler to watch her machine while she is gone. Even when she wins, she will continue to gamble until she has depleted all available resources at that session and leave only when she no longer has money with which to gamble. Winning at this point only means she can gamble longer. Money is not real; it is like play money and has no link to reality. While playing the machine, she may pray to God to just let her win, just let her get even.


When the escape compulsive gambler is finally out of funds, she is forced to leave the casino. She gets into her car feeling precisely like the action gambler who has just been taken out of action. She may pray , "Please never let me gamble again." She may swear that she will never gamble again, may curse God for allowing her to gamble; she may pound on the steering wheel, even scream and cry on the drive home and have thoughts about driving her car off of a bridge or into an oncoming vehicle (a thought she quickly abandons for fear of hurting someone else; as much as she wants to harm herself, she doesn't want it to appear self-inflicted and she doesn't really want to hurt a stranger). She will blame the casino, vowing never to return. But unfortunately, in order to escape the reality of the problems she already suffers and others she may have just created, she must gamble again.


Once home, she has already prepared lies about where she has been or what she has done, is already making plans about how to obtain more money to cover bad checks she may have written and to obtain money with which to win back her losses. She will probably be back at the machine the next day or very soon and the cycle will repeat itself again and again until finally her world comes crashing down.
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.