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Iowa gaming options boost gambling rates

MASON CITY — Given the prevalence of casinos and other gaming outlets in Iowa, it should come as no surprise that residents of the Hawkeye state gamble more than the national average. Story by Joe Buttweiler.|MASON CITY — Given the prevalence of casinos and other gaming outlets in Iowa, it should come as no surprise that residents of the Hawkeye state gamble more than the national average, according to Amy Markham, prevention specialist with Prairie Ridge Addiction Treatment Services.

While 80 percent of all Americans gambled last year, the figure in Iowa was 88 percent, she said.

Those living within 40 miles of a casino have double the chances of becoming a problem gambler, she said. That covers pretty much all of the state.

There are 18 state-licensed casinos, three Native American casinos, 26 scratch games, five lotto games and 19 pull-tab games. The numbers of scratch and pull-tab games vary depending on the season.

Markham, speaking Thursday to the Mason City Noon Kiwanis Club, said people whose parents had addictions are four times more at risk of developing addictions themselves. The addiction could be to alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling, she said, adding that a person with one form of addiction is more likely than others to develop another type of addiction.

She showed brain X-rays showing how the brain of an addict lights up in anticipation of experiencing the addicted behavior, meaning there’s a physiological draw.

The pull is greater in those who are prone to addictions than those who are not, she said.

She noted that certain types of gambling often correspond to substances abused. Those who crave action games such as poker and roulette are more likely to be meth or cocaine users, while those who gamble to escape ñ using slot machines — are more likely to use alcohol or marijuana.

Markham, who speaks to clubs and organizations about gambling addictions so people understand and can avoid developing addictions, shared a variety of facts about gambling:
ï Women become addicted to slot machines more than men.
ï It takes 12 to 18 months for a slot machine to go from concept to the casino floor.
ï 7.9 million American adolescents are problem or pathological gamblers.
ï For every compulsive gambler, at least eight to 10 other people are negatively affected.
ï The average bankruptcy debt for addicted male gamblers is $55,000 to $60,000.

“Problem gambling takes a huge toll,” Markham said, including harm to relationships not just with immediate family members, but sometimes with friends and co-workers.

She noted that following high-stress situations such as flooding or loss of a job, the amount of problem gambling among those affected goes up during the following 10 years. Unfortunately, some see gambling as a way to overcome their financial hardships, she said.

Markham outlined five phases of gambling:
Phase 1 is social gambling, where the person enjoys gambling occasionally but can take it or leave it. The gambler follows low-risk guidelines. “Typically this does not affect a person’s well-being.”
Phase 2 is “The Big Anticipation” phase, where gamblers very much look forward to gambling.
Phase 3 is preoccupation with gambling, with a need to wager more and more. There may be some lying to a spouse.
Phase 4 is desperation gambling, where the gambler is betting more in hopes of bailing himself out. The person cannot stop and gambling is overwhelming his or her life.

Phase 5 is the exhaustion phase. Twenty percent will commit suicide and 80 percent will consider it. There is a feeling of helplessness, Markham said. “The person is overwhelmed financially and emotionally.”
Those who suspect they may have a gambling problem are encouraged to call 1-800-BETS-OFF.
Two questions are often asked to help determine problem gambling. One is if the person ever felt the need to bet more and more, and the other is if he or she has ever lied to people about gambling.
Gambling addiction treatment is free at Prairie Ridge, paid for by grants.

Warning Signs
If someone you know exhibits any of the following warning signs below, they may have developed a gambling problem, according to the website You can get them the help they need by calling 1-800-BETS-OFF.
The person is:
ï Preoccupied with gambling (i.e. reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble)
ï Secretive about his/her gambling habits, and defensive when confronted
ï Increasing bet amounts when gambling in order to achieve the desired excitement (“high”)
ï Trying unsuccessfully to control, cut back or stop gambling
ï Restless or irritable when not gambling
ï Gambling to escape problems
ï Chasing losses with more gambling
ï Lying to family and others about the extent of gambling
ï Committing crimes to finance gambling
ï Jeopardizing or losing relationships, jobs, education or career opportunities because of gambling
ï Relying on others to bail him or her out relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling|

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