It started with a visit to Casino Aztar with relatives more than a year after the riverboat opened in 1995.
After that, his visits gradually increased and so did his losses.
“When I started out, it would just be $300 or $400,” said 39-year-old Keith, a recovering problem gambler who did not want his full name published.
“There were times you would win a bit. But they are in the business of making money. If you went often, you would lose money. It got to where I went a couple times a month, and I would spend a thousand dollars,” he said.
As Keith’s addiction and financial loses escalated, he took out two bank loans each for $5,000 to support his habit. In just two years, Keith estimates gambling cost him and his family more than $20,000.
“What I lost was a relatively insignificant amount compared to other people,” said Keith, who is active in the Evansville Gamblers Anonymous group. He recalls a local businessman who lost $60,000 to $80,000 at a time before selling his business and leaving town.
“Most people can gamble for recreation,” said Phil Fisher, dean of the School of Business at Indiana State University. “But for a few, it has turned into a personal tragedy.”
The National Gambling Impact Study commission estimates there are about 3 million American adults who are problem gamblers. It said gambling becomes a “problem” when the behavior results in negative personal and social consequences.
A 1998 report by Louisiana State University Medical Center, entitled “Gambling Behavior of Indiana Adults,” said 5.3 percent of Indiana gamblers were “problem gamblers,” spending 40 or more hours a week gambling. However, it was not clear how many of the state’s problem gamblers are addicted to casino gambling.
Mike Musgrave, a certified gambling addiction therapist from casino en ligne who has been with the Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center for 12 years, has noticed an increase in people seeking help for gambling.
He said during each of the past four years, approximately 60 people have received counseling for gambling at the Stepping Stone addiction center. Musgrave said roughly half of them were hooked on casino gambling, but he is not sure if Casino Aztar is the reason.
The Rev. John Wolf of Valparaiso, Ind., the outspoken leader of the Indiana Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said problems caused by gambling may not be apparent in the communities where casinos are located.
“These people go back home, and when they have lost consistently and they have become addicted to the gambling mentality then the problems begin to appear,” Wolf said. He wants the Indiana Legislature to commission a study focusing on the cost of gambling to society compared to the revenue that the state, county and local governments receive from the gaming industry.
Wolf added that gamblers also may be reluctant to talk about their situation until they reach a crisis. “They usually wait until it becomes a great pain because of the embarrassment to themselves or their family or debt gets so large they consider suicide,” he said.
Keith gave up gambling after his wife found out about his gambling loans.
Musgrave said gambling addicts are often more difficult to treat than a substance abuser because their problem is not always apparent and they are more likely to rationalize their actions.
“A substance abuser who has health problems or legal problems, they don’t see a way out. But these people (gamblers) think ‘As soon as I win, things will be better,’ ” he said. “I work a lot with reality, trying to get them to get rid of the fantasy and see the reality.”
Musgrave said he encourages problem gamblers to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings for peer support. “They can talk about how they deal with it,” he said. “It also gives them the opportunity to see that they are not alone, and it gets them around people that don’t gamble.”