In Their Own Words – Diane’s Story

In Their Own Words – Diane’s Story

Although Dianne is not a big football fan, she’ll never forget the Monday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys on January 3, 1983. It was the first major bet her husband, Don, placed on a football game. He bet a whopping $1,500 – an amount to cover accumulated gambling losses to date – and lost.

More than 25 years later, Dianne shudders at the memory of that night. She looks back on it as the beginning of a 14-year period in which her husband’s gambling took the family on a roller coaster ride it never wanted.

Shortly after that Vikings game, Don’s gambling losses began to mount. It soon led to another early memory that haunted the family: his young children watched in dismay as a stranger came into their house to remove a Betamax machine, the sales proceeds of which would be used to settle gambling debt. In the first of many gambling-related lies to his children, Don explained that the machine was broken.

In time, Don’s betting advanced from football to all other sports, and he soon had his own bookie. “I bet every day of the year except the Monday and Wednesday before and after the baseball all-star game, the only two days of the year when there was no sports betting,” says Don.

After Don’s bookie was the subject of a police raid, federal agents dressed in suits and badges came to the house. That development sent shock waves through the family. “That really scared the kids and I felt we couldn’t have that,” says Dianne. She subsequently packed up the kids and moved in hopes of finding a more stable home environment.

The sight of an empty house served as the first wakeup call for Don. He began attending Gambler’s Anonymous in 1986 and convinced Dianne he was ready to quit. Only he really wasn’t.

Shortly thereafter, Dianne came across a piece of paper with a list of football games while the couple was away at a cabin. “I was assured by Don that they were old games because he’d quit gambling.” She later confirmed the list was for current football games.

As a result, Don became increasingly sneaky in his dealings. He cancelled handball games with friends and rearranged work shifts so he could find more time for gambling at the casino. Don learned to kite checks from three checking accounts he created, and found himself visiting a banker every day. “I could at least relax on the weekends when the banks were closed,” recalls Don some 20 years later. He was working one job and half of another “to keep all the balls in the air.”

Don forged his wife’s signature a few times to take out loans to pay gambling debts. With a flexible work schedule, Don, who controlled the family’s finances, arranged to be home when he knew the mailman would arrive, meeting him several houses in advance. “The joke was that I was having an affair with the mailman,” says Don.

The cycle of lies and deceit – as well as a general absence from the family – continued through 1994, about eight years after Don first attended GA. On Tuesday, December 27, 1994, he called in sick to work and cancelled a handball match with a friend so that he could stay at a casino. When Don, who called his wife every afternoon like clockwork, didn’t call at the usual time, Dianne suspected the worst. Late that afternoon, a call finally came. “Would you mind if I cashed another $100 check,” Don asked? “Do whatever you want, stay as long as you want, I don’t care,” said his defeated wife of 16 years.

Don came home in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, but to a bedroom that was locked. He knew he’d hit rock bottom and had to stop gambling. He went to GA that night and has been attending religiously every since. That Tuesday night was the last time he’s every gambled.

Today, Don is well into his recovery and is a thriving member of society. He considers himself fortunate in that GA has helped him, and helped him at age where he can still repay his debts and hopefully accumulate something of a nest egg. Other gambling addicts require individual treatment and counseling to help in their recovery.

The road has been long and not without challenges. “It was particularly tough to quit at the beginning,” says Don. “Even several years into it, I remember seeing a list of football games and asking myself if the Packers would cover the spread, etc.” For her part, all these year’s later, Dianne’s stomach still turns when she sees her husband turn the channel from one football game to another, conditioned for so many years to think he’s checking on games he bet on.

Forgiveness, after so many years of deception, is difficult to grant. In Don and Dianne’s case, a more complete healing didn’t occur until well after Don had quit gambling and the couple had engaged in Retrouvaille, a type of marriage counseling that’s not unlike a 12-step program.

Thankfully, much of the damage caused by Don’s gambling has gradually healed. His daughter, who wouldn’t allow him to attend her high school graduation nor be part of her wedding, has reconciled with Don. “Our kids carried around a ton of hurt from what their father did,” says Dianne. “It seemed like every time we wanted to do something as a family, all the sudden he was gone. For the kids, it was one broken promise after another.”

Today, 17 years into his recovery, Don’s promises are as good as gold.

Reflections from Minnesota NCPG Conference Goers

Reflections from Minnesota NCPG Conference Goers

The annual conference of the National Council on Problem Gambling took place in July. Here are reflections from two Minnesotans who attended:

Jeff Hudson, MNAPG Board President, Person with Lived Experience

I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to attend. Ever since I made the commitment to ease gambling harm, I have thought the answer lies in all stakeholders being involved. Here are some of my observations:

· Networking. I had a list of specific people I wanted to meet in person, having either talked or followed on social media and it was a great networking experience.

· Critiquing research. I saw two panels where I had doubts about the thoroughness and accuracy of the research. Hearing the presenters talk about their methodologies helped me think critically about what they were measuring and the results they were claiming.

· Agility grants. I really enjoyed hearing the stories and seeing the videos that were created by participants.

· Veteran programs. The sheer number of veteran-related programs was telling, as was the convincing evidence. It is clear this is a very underserved community, and we have the potential to make some great strides in Minnesota.

· School boards. Someone said they are having more success reaching out to local school boards about gambling education than by going to individual schools. It makes sense, since the school board can influence many schools.

Katie Richards, MNAPG Board Vice President, Problem Gambling Counselor

One of my biggest takeaways from the conference is that sports betting will change a lot of things on many levels, not just on a state level but a national and individual level. There was a lot of education on what sports betting is, who is doing it, the companies that are promoting it, etc. However, one thing that could be done better is, once given that information (the multiple massive studies done), what should the person in the audience do with it? Example, I know the profile of a sports better, but what therapy techniques can I use with them? Or how do I advocate to the state of Minnesota to change the current legislative bills to make sure clients are being protected? On a federal level is there anything I can do? “

Helpline Adds Motivational Texting

Helpline Adds Motivational Texting

Needless to say, we live in a world where texting seems the preeminent form of communication. So why shouldn’t it play an important role in helping someone with a gambling problem.

Now, in Minnesota, it does. LifeWorks, which manages the Minnesota Problem Gambling Helpline, now offers a service called Encourage Me that consists of motivational text messaging.

Encourage Me motivational text messaging is offered to both gamblers and affected others in both English and Spanish. Messages are sent twice each week for three months and are tailored to fit into the client’s stage of change, as clients require a different type of information and support in each stage. The messages provide both information about gambling and problem gambling, encouragement to change, and tips and suggestions on how to make the changes they want to make.

“We realize that some people may just be thinking about changing, while others need maintenance during the recovery period,” says Ashley Trantham, Manager of Customer Success at LifeWorks. Motivational messaging is offered as a supplemental treatment tool and isn’t meant to be a substitute for counseling.

Here are some questions and answers about Encourage Me:

Why Texting?

· The program was developed using research from successful healthcare-related texting programs such as smoking cessation, weight loss, and medication management.

· Text messages have a 98% open rate vs. a 20% open rate for emails.

· Text messages can be opened at any time that is most convenient to the user.

· Available on almost every model of mobile phone.

· Provides a reminder that someone cares.

· Reminds the user that help is available.

Is it effective?

Yes! Outcome surveys are conducted at the conclusion of the texts and in the first year, 86% of survey responses indicated that receiving a text message every week helped keep them focused and working on their goals about gambling. Example comment: “I have not gambled since calling the helpline and found the text messages helpful for reinforcement, reminding me to focus on my goal of not gambling.”

Examples of texts

Contemplation: Consider changing your thoughts from “I have to stop gambling” to “I want to stop gambling”
Preparation: You have made significant progress by just acknowledging that gambling is no longer fun. You’re on the right path.
Action: Today is the day to be good to yourself. Take a walk, enjoy the warmth of the sun, or give yourself the gift of feeling good about managing your gambling.
Maintenance: Take the time to review and modify your goals and plans for recovering from problem gambling. Stay active in your recovery!

Can a person enroll more than once?

How do I enroll a client?

Clients are offered Encourage Me messages as a standard part of their call to the Problem Gambling Helpline. If your client has not yet enrolled, you can enroll them by calling the helpline together or recommending that they contact the Helpline themselves. Curious? You can call and sign yourself up, too!

Crypto Trading – Is It Gambling?

Crypto Trading – Is It Gambling?

While it’s not there yet, cryptocurrency trading is gradually approaching mainstream adoption. It’s a phenomenon in the investing world, but its safety is questionable. While some people have made millions buying cryptocurrency, others have lost everything.

Is cryptocurrency trading a form of gambling and, if it is, can one become addicted? There’s a strong argument to be made that the answers to both questions are yes.

According to Kevin Davis, a leading financial expert in Australia, when one buys a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, chances are they’re doing it not to make a payment but because they believe someone will be willing to pay more for the Bitcoin in the future (Sydney Morning Herald, July 1, 2022). While Davis says that it’s different from other forms of gambling, where the outcome of a horse race or a sports contest determines the gain or loss, he still sees it as gambling.

With excessive cryptocurrency trading, an individual risks money on a highly volatile commodity in hopes of making a substantial return. It is similar to gambling on high-risk stocks like margins and options.

Surging prices of cryptocurrency can bring a rush of dopamine. Regular “hits” of dopamine stemming from the volatility of cryptocurrency – as well as the fact that it can be traded at any time – can produce addiction more easily than stock trading, which has a market that’s less volatile and has limited trading hours.

Indeed, there are specific signs of cryptocurrency addiction according to Family Addiction Specialist ( These include, but are not limited to, the following:

1. Taking on increased risk without much strategy or needing to make bigger wagers in order to receive satisfaction or excitement.

2. Obsession with researching and trading cryptocurrencies or having a preoccupation or compulsion to constantly check prices.

3. Losing interest in social and leisure activities once found pleasurable at the expense of engaging in trading.

4. Trading for an adrenaline rush or to induce pleasure.

5. Unsuccessful attempts at reducing time spent on trading and trading-related activities, or unsuccessful attempts from taking a break or abstaining from trading-related activities.

6. Trading compulsively or experiencing strong urges and cravings to engage in trading-related activities.

7. Experiencing stress, anxiety, a low mood, irritability, insomnia, anger or other unwanted and unhealthy mental health symptoms when trading or when unable to trade.

8. Lying or hiding trading or trading-related activities from loved ones.

9. Stealing, taking loans, selling assets or using money that should be spent on bills or necessities in order to make trades.

10. Continuing to trade despite adverse consequences to financial stability, relationships, physical and mental wellbeing, or other important life areas.

If you or a loved one is struggling with cryptocurrency addiction, call the Minnesota Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-333-4673 (HOPE) for free confidential help.

The Wager: Is it just for fun?: Learning why social casino gamers play and gamble

The Wager: Is it just for fun?: Learning why social casino gamers play and gamble

Read the original article on The Basis website HERE.
By Caitlyn Matykiewicz, MPH

Social casino games have become very popular during the past decade. Typically played on mobile devices, these online games are connected to social networking sites, allowing players to see their scores on leaderboards and share results with their friends. Social casino games resemble gambling activities like slot machines (aka electronic gambling machines [EGMs]), even including similar sounds and offering in-game purchases or microtransactions with rewards of virtual points. Because they are free to play and the player cannot win any real money from the outcome, social casino games are not currently considered gambling. However, people who play simulated gambling games, such as social casino gamers, might be more likely to experience gambling problems. This week, The WAGER reviews a study by Hyoun S. Kim and colleagues that investigated motives for playing social casino games and transitioning between social casino games and gambling.

What were the research questions?
Why do people who gamble play social casino games? Why do people transition from social casino games to gambling? Why do people transition from gambling to social casino games?

What did the researchers do?
The researchers recruited 269 United States residents who both gambled and played social casino games. Through an online survey, participants provided their top three reasons for playing social casino games, transitioning to gambling after playing social casino games, and transitioning to social casino gaming after gambling. Participants also completed the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI). The researchers conducted a thematic analysis of participant responses and identified key motives for each of the three research questions.

What did they find?
For all three research questions, the most frequently mentioned motive was playing for enhancement–in other words, to experience fun, entertainment, excitement, or thrill (see Figure). Participants also played social casino games to alleviate boredom (46%) and for social reasons (29%). Among participants who started with social casino games and transitioned to gambling, 70% reported the opportunity to win real money as a motive for doing so. Availability (42%) and affordability (31%) were common reasons for switching from gambling to social casino games. Gambling-harm minimization was another motive for playing social casino games, among all participants (17%) and among those who transitioned from gambling (28%). Motives for playing social casino games did not differ by PGSI score category.

Figure. Top two reported motives for why people (a) play social casino games, (b) transition from social casino games to gambling, and (c) transition from gambling to social casino games. Click image to enlarge.

Why do these findings matter?
Social casino games can be a potential precursor to gambling and gambling problems. A majority of participants reported that they began gambling as a way to win real money, which is concerning because social casino games have inflated payout rates that could give players a false perception of skill. Players should be informed that their odds of winning in social casino games do not necessarily reflect the odds of winning in gambling.

On the other hand, many participants reported playing social casino games to reduce the chance of gambling harm, as it can satisfy their urge to gamble without them risking any real money. Social casino games may be a potential harm reduction strategy to help people with gambling problems cut down on their gambling behavior, though more research is needed to determine its effectiveness and the harm that results from spending too much time on social casino gaming.

Every study has limitations. What are the limitations in this study?
Participants were limited to United States residents who both gambled and played social casino games, so the results might not be generalizable to people who live in other countries or to people who currently play social casino games but have not yet transitioned to gambling. Because this study was cross-sectional, we also cannot determine whether any of these motives actually caused changes in social casino gaming or gambling behavior.

For more information:
Do you think you or someone you know has a gambling problem? Visit the National Council on Problem Gambling for screening tools and resources. For additional resources, including gambling and self-help tools, please visit our Addiction Resources page.

In Their Own Words – Melanie’s Story

In Their Own Words – Melanie’s Story

I was exposed to a variety of games early in my life. Our family played Pokeno — which is how I learned to play cards — and spun dreidels, which was the first game I played that involved money. I won my first big pot at the age of five years old.

As I got a little older, I played poker and pinochle. I remember losing all my money in poker to my neighbors but then watching my father bail me out by winning it all back. I enjoyed the thrill of being a part of that.

I went to a casino for the first time at 21. I enjoyed it. Then, at about age 30, I met a man who also enjoyed gambling. We started playing Bingo a lot and pull tabs. I remember finding Bingo to be slow, so I played multiple cards and also pull tabs between games.

It was about this time when I started to become preoccupied with gambling. I began lying to myself and others about money. I lost a job directly because of errors in my work due to my gambling, which I sometimes did for 24-36 hours before work.

Eventually, I started attending GA meetings with my husband, but mainly to support him. I looked at the others and thought they had more problems than I did. There was a part of me that wanted to stop, but my desire to continue gambling was greater than my desire to not gamble.

I rationalized that gambling helped me when I was feeling depressed, as I would otherwise just stay home and sleep. I became suicidal, but since I only felt that way when I wasn’t gambling, I convinced myself that I should keep gambling.

Eventually, I realized that my gambling was a symptom of a deeper problem. Gambling was a part of keeping feelings down — guilt, shame, remorse, etc. I was doing things that were against my core principles, such as lying to dear friends, writing bad checks, losing jobs, more drinking and depression. I rationalized some of my behavior by thinking that I hadn’t gone to prison or killed anyone.

While I stopped gambling for periods of time, I couldn’t stop completely. My finances were in ruin and I was full of anger toward myself and my out-of-control behavior.  Thanks to my fellow GA members, I was eventually hospitalized for a second time for depression and then went on to treatment for my gambling. The last time I gambled was on February 19, 2011.

I learned that you can find hope and meaning from the most unlikely of sources. In my gambling fog, I had neglected so many things, including my dog and my plants. While I was away, a friend cared for my house, including my plants. When I returned home, I saw that my tomato plant had somehow survived and was even sprouting new life; I refer to it as Lazarus the Tomato Plant. I took that as a sign that I was going to grow a new life as well.

I can’t believe all the positive things about my life. I’m proud of who I am today and the work I do with the GA program. In the past, I thought only of myself. Now I think of others and volunteer my talents whenever possible. I’ve grown personally. I challenge myself to do things that make me uncomfortable. I enjoy trying new things and taking new approaches in my life of recovery.

If people reading this are on the fence about whether to seek help, I would tell them to keep coming back. Although I was initially not working the GA program when I attended the meetings, they still helped me — the seeds eventually took. I would encourage others to hang on to the desire to stop gambling. It doesn’t have to be an armload of desire; it can be a smidgeon. The desire to stop gambling just has to be greater than the desire to gamble.