ANYONE who has ever bet on anything knows how addictive gambling can be.
There is that rush of adrenaline that courses through one's body while images of what could be done with the money if one finally had that big, elusive payday fill one's thoughts.
Some gambling addicts have literally spent their last dollar and starved, lost their jobs, had their utilities shut off, stolen from their spouses and children, or had bill collectors hunt them down as they funnelled what money they had left into their addiction.
Increasing numbers of Jamaicans are spending more and more money and time betting on horses, playing the lottery and sitting in front of slot machines at gaming lounges, addiction support agency RISE Life Management Services has said.
That is why the entity, as part of its new approach to helping the growing number of gambling addicts in Jamaica, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with one of the country's biggest gaming lounges, Treasure Hunt Gaming in Montego Bay, to aid its push for more responsible gambling.
The landmark five-year MOU signed just over a week ago, binds the two entities in a pact to collaborate on the prevention, treatment and research of problem gambling and entrenchment of responsible gambling practices in Treasure Hunt's facilities islandwide.
Responsible gaming/gambling is widely accepted internationally and charges the community at large, particularly the Government and gaming facilities, with providing education, intervention and support services to promote 'healthy' gambling and to help those who have developed addictions.
Treasure Hunt, which has been involved in RISE Life's Responsible Gambling/Gaming Programme for the past few years, has solidified its commitment to this principle by formalising its use of the NGO's services to train its staff regarding identification and handling of problem gamblers.
Pivotal to this combined effort is the thrust for more betting-addicted Jamaicans to become part of the innovative Voluntary Exclusion Programme (VEP). This allows anyone with gaming/gambling problems to request that they be banned from the lounge for at least three months, or for a lifetime.
Once signed — in full view of relevant and designated gaming lounge staff — the request for voluntary exclusion goes into effect immediately. To be reinstated, the client must reapply for readmission to the gaming lounge, a process that will take approximately three months to be approved.
No customer is reinstated unless they can show proof of attendance and participation in a problem gambling-related programme. A recovering addict must also prove he/she attended a minimum of 12 sessions first. All candidates for reinstatement must attend a hearing/interview.
According to Richard Henry, the programme manager for Addiction Counselling & Support Services at RISE Life, Treasure Hunt is the only gaming establishment in the country to introduce the Voluntary Exclusion Programme, despite attempts to get other gaming houses on board.
"Treasure Hunt gaming was not selected, but approached about developing a Responsible Gambling/Gaming Programme. RISE has made several attempts to introduce this programme to most of the gaming lounges across Jamaica," said Henry, who noted that Supreme Ventures Limited is the only other organisation that has demonstrated any interest in promoting responsible gaming and has trained all staff at its Acropolis and Coral Cliff gaming lounges.
"We have been doing this responsible gaming training since 2006, but back then only Acropolis staff was engaged," he said. "Treasure Hunt has taken responsible gaming to another level by making available to staff and patrons, pamphlets about responsible gaming and other programmes developed to help the problem gambler."
Why would an entity that relies on people losing bets be interested in helping a gambler with his addiction problem, one might ask.
It's a simple answer, said Henry,
"The pathological gambler will eventually stop gambling as he will end up either in prison, lose his job and family, or, ultimately, his life. Responsible Gambling/Gaming Programmes are commonplace worldwide in other jurisdictions that have far more advanced gaming industries. The idea, too, is that the problematic or pathological gambler is not a good client as he will not be able to game consistently over time with disposable income. The pathological gambler's mentality towards gambling cannot be sustained. Therefore, it is never going to be beneficial for pathological gamblers to be patrons," explained Henry.
It's a concept that Treasure Hunt Manager Stephane Vercruysse has bought into.
"I see gambling as a form of entertainment, having a good time. We see more and more casinos opening all over the world. Texas Hold'em Poker has become very popular, Internet gambling... You can take some money you want to spend and don't go over your limit," he told the Jamaica Observer.
"We think it is necessary to help people who get addicted," Vercruysse added.
"Gambling that is done for anything outside of entertainment will become problematic. The pathological gambler has cognitive issues. Meaning that he has problems in the way that he thinks about his ability to influence games of chance. Some people think that they have some special powers to determine numbers, etc, when these are determined, in most games, by chance and randomness," added Henry.
Recovering addict and member of the local Gamblers Anonymous, Mr 'X' (name withheld for privacy) said he fell prey to that demon that kept telling him he was bound to win big from his next bet, even when he was eyeball deep in debt and struggling to keep it from his family.
"I used to go casino twice a week, overseas [horse] racing after work, go [race] track. I used gambling to get out of sex... You tell yourself you will get a big win, that your payday going to come," Mr X told the Sunday Observer.
Waiting for that payday saw him taking loans from one, then another lending institution, not to pay off his growing everyday debts, but to keep on gambling, to cover his extensive gambling obligations. He felt as if he couldn't stop. He lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
His wife left him when she found out, taking their children. He said he reached his breaking point early this year when he took some pills in a bid to end his life.
It was just his confession to a close friend — who immediately intervened when he told him that he was dying by his own hand — that saved him.
That brush with death was to become Mr X's rebirth, as it took him to a psychiatrist and then to RISE Life's trained counsellors and Gamblers Anonymous.
"I pay regular visits to Mr Henry and he is always checking on me. I am very grateful to RISE and Gamblers Anonymous. I have a sickness, and I now understand that I have a sickness," the man said, adding that he has not been back to a gambling house since March this year.
He said as is the case with any other addiction, the admission that one has a disease is key to recovery. This is why he supports the voluntary exclusion programme although he himself never joined it. He said he recognises why it works.
"It's definitely a good move, although it is extreme. The urges to gamble can be overwhelming. Sometimes you have to fight hard to resist the urge, which can easily drive you back to the track or gambling house," he said.
The fact that an addict who agrees to be part of the programme will be banned from the casinos for an extended period is helpful, he said.
Mr 'X' also pointed to the support of family and friends being critical to recovery. In his case, fortunately, he and his wife reconciled and she agreed to go with him for counselling.
"You cannot beat this addiction alone, you need support," he said
"Clients coming in to RISE for treatment of a gambling-related issue have responded very well. Rise partners with Gamblers Anonymous (GA) — a very strong support group for persons with gambling-related problems — and so clients attend RISE for individual sessions and are referred to GA for the group-type setting," explained Henry, who is convinced that the more people know about the programme, the more those who recognise they have a problem will want to participate.
"To date, we have had one person sign up for the VEP at Treasure Hunt and she has never been able to return, and doesn't want to go back as well. This is a person that has gambled to the point of using funds not designated for entertainment but for the advancement of her business ventures. Add, as well, lying to family members about funds being removed from a joint bank account, and an uncontrolled urge to gamble despite negative consequences. That sort of behaviour is deemed as pathological," said Henry.
The VEP is a very private programme and confidentiality is strictly adhered to. Only a few persons at the gaming lounge have information about a particular person wanting to be banned from the facility.
"The programme is very important to the gaming industry. As we increase the opportunities for persons to gamble, as demonstrated by the number of gaming lounges and games available today, we must provide the requisite support services for those who will develop problems with gambling/gaming," Henry insisted.
"Our Responsible Gambling/Gaming project at RISE is sponsored by the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC), which had the foresight to see the need for support services as we advance the gaming industry in Jamaica. RISE is extremely grateful for the proactive approach of the BGLC and its Executive Director Mr Derek Peart," said Henry, who noted that in other jurisdictions with advanced gaming industries funding has to be set aside for prevention, treatment and research purposes related to gaming and gambling and would be entrenched in their legislation.
It's a responsibility that Vercruysse wants other gaming houses to get behind.
"I would encourage other gaming lounges to get involved too," he said. "It would make more sense if patrons who get excluded from our lounges can't get a chance to gamble at other lounges. But this is not mandatory, it is completely up to the goodwill of the operator to set up an exclusion programme."
Winning ways to guard against gambling addiction
* Decide ahead of time how much money you want to gamble with.
* Play, knowing that it is likely that you will lose more often than win; so make sure you are playing with money you can afford to lose.
* Make informed decisions about your gambling — know the odds.
* Think of gambling as a form of entertainment, not a way to make money.
* If you win big, enjoy! But remind yourself it will probably never happen again.
* Don't gamble when you are tired, bored, anxious, depressed, or angry.
* Keep track of how much time and money you spend on gambling.
* Take your family and friends seriously. If they are worried about your gambling, they might be seeing something you don't see. Do not gamble alone.
* Use only your own money to gamble. Don't borrow.
* Realise that in most forms of gambling you have no control over the outcome of the game — it's random.
* When gambling, take breaks — walk around, eat, or go outside to clear your head.
* Keep your head clear when you gamble.
* Balance gambling with other leisure activities.
* Go gambling with someone who does not have a problem with gambling.
* Don't make the hole bigger — don't chase your loses.
* Don't take your credit and bank cards with you when you gamble.
* Set a time limit on how long you will gamble.
* Make your own decisions about gambling — don't gamble because others want you to.
* Do not gamble with money set aside to pay everyday expenses.
* Accept losses as the cost of entertainment.
* Talk to someone you trust if you are concerned about your gambling.