Prevention of problem gambling discussed

At left, standing, Kathy Donner, the education and prevention administrator at the Arizona Office of Problem Gambling, spoke to a group of 13 senior citizens on behalf of problem gambling and services for addicted gamblers. (Photo by Brianna Cossavella, special to the Independent)

At left, standing, Kathy Donner, the education and prevention administrator at the Arizona Office of Problem Gambling, spoke to a group of 13 senior citizens on behalf of problem gambling and services for addicted gamblers. (Photo by Brianna Cossavella, special to the Independent)

The woman’s eyes welled up with emotion as she talked about her gambling addiction.

“I saw myself there. I did suspect I would and that is why I came,” the woman, who did not disclose her real name, said in response to a speech about problem gambling.

Kathy Donner, the education and prevention administrator at the Arizona Office of Problem Gambling, spoke to a group of 13 senior citizens on behalf of problem gambling and services for addicted gamblers. The speech was held at 10 a.m. Sept. 11 at the Red Mountain Multigenerational Center, 7550 E Adobe Road.

“It can be an isolating and shameful addiction,” Ms. Donner said. “Many people use gambling as a form of escapism.”

Karen Stegenga, crime prevention officer at the Mesa Police Department, coordinated the event. She manages Upbeat Aging, one of the nine advisory boards hosted by the Mesa Police Department. She coordinates a series of classes and events for adults 60 and over.

“Most patrons at casinos are 60 and over,” Ms. Stegenga said. “Many workers know them by their first name and casino buses are their regular form of transportation.”

Ms. Stegenga said the topic might scare people away, but she wanted to address the issue.

She recently met Ms. Donner at a health exposition and invited her to speak about the topic.

In 2012, 76.1 million people over the age of 21 visited casinos in the U.S. to gamble, Ms. Donner said. This fact stunned the audience.

Ms. Donner said the cause of problem gambling cannot be identified, but the neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, have the ability to elevate a person’s mood when he or she gambles. The act of taking risks and excitement from winning are typical reasons why people choose to gamble, she said.

Three attendees admitted to gambling frequently.

Of the remaining 10, Suz Fields, a retired special education teacher, said “What I learn here, I can take and share with others, and that’s exactly what I do.”

Ms. Fields said she refuses to gamble, but she personally knows people who do. She said she sees family members and children related to problem gamblers greatly affected. If she can educate her peers in any way, she will.

Consistent thoughts about gambling, wanting more money to gamble, withdrawal, agitation, chasing losses and lying to friends and family members are common signs of an addicted gambler, Ms. Donner said.

Addicted gamblers can be hard to detect as signs may not be evident, she said. A person’s addiction has a tendency to get worse before a peer can determine if there is a problem.

Officials at the Arizona Office of Problem Gambling enacted the Arizona self-exclusion program. A person can voluntarily ban themselves from all casinos in Arizona, and Harrah’s and Caesars entertainment casinos worldwide for one, five or 10 years.

If a person who is part of the program goes into a casino and is noticed by officials, he or she will be escorted off the premises. In addition, if a person sneaks into a casino and wins, his or her winnings will be donated to charity and the individual will be escorted off the premises. Casino officials are authorized to detain the individual and charge him or her with trespassing if they choose to do so.

Ms. Donner encouraged problem gamblers, and people who know problem gamblers, to seek help. She recommended calling 800-639-8783 for information about treatment and Gamblers Anonymous.

Editors note: Brianna Cossavella is a journalism student at the Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and wrote the article as a class assignment.

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