Dr. Eric Geffner's Gambling Treatment Program
1314 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024
SPORTS BETTING: Nearly 40% of my patients are sports betors. And although sports wagering is illegal except in Nevada it is so accessable that most patients private bookie websites via their smart phones or offshore accounts. Because most bookies allow my patients to gamle on credit the potential for problems is enormous.
Kids are exposed to sports wagering at an early age, and are often introduced to it by family members while watching sports. Betting on a sporting event can make it seem exciting even when it is not. A game between that otherwise would not be of any interest to anyone but a diehard fan suddenly takes on significance and importance beyond what it would otherwise. In severe cases, the entire process of sports betting becomes very meaningful to a gambler to the extent that it starts to seem more important than other life activities that are related to the person's real life. I have treated patients for whom "watching the games' is the main activity they engage in (other then working -and in very severe situations it even replaces work).
On the "normal" side of the continuum of gambling problems, many people bet on sports without problems and enjoy doing so. I recall my father would often place a small bet small amount on the annual UCLA-USC football game, or the Kings hockey team. Sports, and sports betting is a major way that men communicate and connect with each other. In my 12 years of treating gambling problems I have not had a single women come to my office with an addiction to sports betting. For men, sports as a way to connect with each other and have fun and betting on it is often a natural activity. They know about the teams and players and can make a reasonable guess at who will win a particular game with a 50-50 chance at being right. However, my patient are taking that to a whole different level, often studing and researching it deeply, more deeply that anything else they are doing.
But sports books are no fools they have learned to make the situation work for them and not the gambler. Any gambling activity where the person selects an outcome from several selctions (picking a team, horse, stock) increased the mental belief in our seclection, we all want to believe that we are smart, and often this process provides immediate or quick feedback on the decision made. But if it was turely a matter of just picking the team then sports betting would be fair. However when you have to bet 130 dollars to win 100 or you have to pay a 10% vig or 'juice' on the win, or you have to give points it becomes IMPOSSIBLE to win over time other than a periodic streak here and there. But sports betters know this (although some are nearly delusional still thinking they can win) but they continue anyways, because it provide an all day rush and a powerful sense of doing something meaningful - the action just gets better and better as they start to bet the over and under and half time wagers, and all kinds of parlays that surely will hit big if they hit at all.. The obsessive checking of scores is another major hallmark, and this actiivity takes on a degree of compusion that can be quite severe as all day long they might be checking checking checking. I often hear of people sneaking to the bathroom during meals to check or doing so during critical family time.
Sports wagering has another side to it. It is a massive money making business, with many bookies and internet wagering sites making more money that anyone can even fathom. Surely it is these business men who are getting rich off of the sports gambler.
Unlike most forms of gambling, sports wagering is typically conducted without any immediate need to pay for the wager. So unlike putting a 100 dollars on the blackjack table, the sports gambler can put a large bet on a team and not have any money to back the bet up. This creates a situation where they owe the bookie and builds a dependent parasitic relationship between the gambler and the bookie. Losses are not collected for up to a week (the dreaded Monday or Tuesday meeting) and causes the indebted gambler to become desperate to create money. In some cases huge levels of interest are charged by loan sharks or the bookies themselves. Although they rarely are as violent as projected in the movies, it can get ugly.
I have personally spoken with professional athletes and read reports from the professional odds makers in Vegas who state emphatically that it is impossible to sustain a constant winning streak over a long period of time. In the end, nearly every frequent sports bettor, who is placing a lot of wagers will lose. I often think that if Pete Rose can't win by betting on sports (and he didn't), I really doubt that anyone could. I have had patients report huge wins, over 50 thousand dollars in one day, but they lose the winnings.
For some gamblers, sports wagering may involve a very high degree of mental activity prior to the bet, this greatly increases the resiliency of the addiction. Sports gamblers often feel that they really understand the sports (many of my patients are former high school and college star athletes) and so think they have a better chance at picking the team correctly. Tracking the teams on ESPN.com, radio and sports pages. are common. For some sports gamblers, watching the events is a also an important part of their week, although not all sports gamblers will watch the game, most will track the score in some manner. This mental preoccupation needs to be addressed in treatment, and is similar to horse racing in this aspect. In addition, there is a very strong compulsive checking of game outcomes that occurs with this type of gambling due to the long delay between placing a bet and the outcome. Patient tell me about tracking the games while attending family events, at dinner, while at plays or the theater, and even hiding in the bathroom. This behavior really tips off the family to the gambling behavior.
The action on sports is substantial. Large wins and losses are possible in a single day and the rush of picking a group of winning teams can be tremendous. The financial damage and stress to families is also tremendous. An innocent and harmless behavior can and does become massively destructive. The sports gambler often feels that they can soon repair the damage, and often does not realize the harm they are doing to themselves and those around them. When the size of the wager increases over time, when multiple teams are being bet on, when aspects of the gambling are hidden from others (e.g., wager size, number of bets), when multiple sports types are bet on (e.g., betting on more than one type of sport), when there are financial problems and bookie debt, when there is excessive sports watching over other events and when it becomes viewed as a supplemental source of income there is an increased likelihood of a problem. Betting on sports like hockey and professional golf are unusual behaviors for the average non-problem sports gambler. The intensity of the problem usually increases over time without intervention.
This following section is still under construction:
Card Games: Have a strong social aspect while video/slots gambling is more isolating. This can be an important aspect of the behavior to consider when understanding the meaning of the gambling to the person. Access to local card clubs in California have increased tremendously in the past few years. Many gamblers have found "gaming" locations near their homes or work. This access hurts gamblers who find themselves just stopping in for a while. I have found that a lot of card gamblers struggle with lying to themselves: " I will only go for an hour or two... I will only bet a few hundred dollars..." these limits are usually quickly broken. Wins are recalled much more frequently than losses. Many card gamblers will resort to playing when they feel they need more money for household bills. Some will start to play higher stakes games when they are more desperate to win. "I can go make a quick hit and leave" is the hopeful thought, but the winnings are often used to gamble more. At this time there is a HUGE increase in the number of people with problems relating to poker. This is clearly a function of the media hype, for example a recent radio ad was saying that I should petition the world Olympic Association to allow poker as a sport.
Of all the forms of gambling, poker is one of the most complex and sophisticated, and because there is the ability to win even with a bad hand, there is much more skill involved. Although this is NOT true for video poker. In addition, there is a greater ability for someone to be a professional poker player as compared to something like slot machines or sports betting. Still, I have had two casino card dealers tell me that eventually the house does take a lot of the money off the table. In addition, this form of gambling is causing HUGE problems because so many people think that they can engage in it successfully when only a few can. It seems that even those that can successfully play poker and consistently earn money are not compulsive and very well controlled. The problem is that most of my patients that are poker players have is that they not play tight the entire night and lose control at some point. Also, the investment of time is killing their lives. The damage that this "sport" is causing people in California is tremendous.
In many ways blackjack is even more problematic. Many people have never heard of the game called Faro. Faro was the most popular gambling in the USA in the 1800's. Now it is gone. The reason it was popular was that is appeared at first that a person could win, but the more a person played the more it was clear that they could not. Granted that many of the games were also fixed did not help this any. Still, the game that was the biggest fad is now gone. I think a reason that Blackjack is so problematic for compulsive gamblers is idea that if played perfectly they can win and beat the house. But unless you are an MIT student, this is usually impossible. Blackjack is the faro of today's casino. Have you ever seen a casino that sells books on how to play blackjack correctly in their gift shop ? Ever wondered why would they sell this??? It creates the illusion that you can study the game and win more. While you can win more, it still isnt going to be more than the MGM will win if you play more than a few hands.
Horse Track Gambling: I have found that this is the most difficult form of gambling to treat. The illusion of being able to pick the right horse based on statistics is so compelling and the odds provide a big hit when the horse comes in, making this a very hard type of gambling to stop. "I enjoy relaxing at the track" is a common excuse for track gamblers. Often the damage to their families is substantial to the point where they remain single or are divorced. It is very important for the horse gambler to stop tracking races in the papers once they stop. Big events like the Kentucky Derby are marketing tools by the industry to pull gambler's in and create a "buzz" in the sports world.
Still under construction
Stock market 'investing;
Copyright 2011 Dr. Eric Geffner's Gambling Treatment Program. All rights reserved.
Dr. Eric Geffner's Gambling Treatment Program
1314 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024