“I made big wins, but always gave it back,” remarked an ex-gambler in a local Gamblers Anonymous self-help program. Unlike drug addiction or even alcoholism, a gambling problem isn’t a problem you can spot on someone. "If you look at me, I look like anybody else,” my new friend continued.
Not everyone who gambles is a problem gambler. "A certain number gamble excessively and become problem and pathological gamblers, harming themselves, their families, and their communities," according to the 2006 report prepared by the California State Library, Gambling in the Golden State.
My new friend recounts, "I was raising a family. I made plenty of money, but the utilities were always getting shut off." His family apparently got tired of the lies and the stealing from the family coffers. "I reached my bottom, my family left."
Not only can problem gambling ruin the individual life, it is a social problem as well. Gambling in the Golden State says "research suggests that crime rises as casinos attract visitors who either commit or are the victims of crime.”San Bernardino is home to the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, a 100,000 square foot gaming facility located on the reservation of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. In an area that is riddled with economic disparity and crime, the casino seems like an odd place for thousands of people to flock to every weekend. But many San Bernardino residents spend their time, and their money, at the casino.
Michael Alexander, a resident of San Bernardino visits the casino once or twice a week. "Usually the first time I go, I lose. Then I have to keep going back to try and recoup." He said that he can go two or three months at a time without going to the casino. "I go in spurts."
Marciella Lopez, a 22-year old resident of San Bernardino just had her first experience at the casino. The casino offers a birthday package for guests who visit on their birthday which includes slot credit. With her credit, Lopez won $100. "It felt good. I was happy."
But gambling is more risky for young people. In 2003, the California Nations Indian Gambling Association (CNIGA) held its first symposium on problem gambling. A CNIGA newsletter article [PDF} about the symposium reported, "The prevalence rate for problem gambling among teen-agers and young adults is two to four times that of adults. And while young people have historically grown out of the proclivity to gambling responsibly by the time they reached adulthood, some experts fear the trend may not continue." According to the California Council on Problem Gambling, "6% of the teens who have tried gambling have become pathological gamblers." San Manuel's website includes a “Responsible Gaming” page with resources that the gambler, family or friends can use for help with gambling problems.