Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs such as alcohol can, leading to addiction. If you’re prone to compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction.
An addicted gambler looking to place a wager is little different from a drug addict looking to find a fix.
Studies by the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling have documented that adult problem and pathological gamblers are almost four times as likely to have been arrested as non-problem gamblers.
The Florida Council also reports that more than a third of callers to its toll-free help line say they have committed a crime to support their gambling habit. These include white-collar crimes such as employee theft and embezzlement, as well as more violent crimes such as assault.
The sad fact is anyone can become an addict:
In 2014, Rev. Vladimir Dziadek committed suicide after being caught stealing $200,000 from the St. Joseph Catholic Church in West Tampa to fund his gambling addiction.
In 2011, Jennifer Dennison of Brooksville stole $500,000 from her in-laws, wiping out their retirement savings, to gamble at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.
At a court hearing, Dennison described how she initially had won $10,000 at a slot machine.
“We never left the high-limit room after that,” she said. “It was better than my first kiss or falling in love. It controlled my life.”
Research by MIT anthropologist Natasha Schull has shown that modern slot machines, which create an immersive digital environment and allow for a rapid rate of play, are much more likely to create addiction than other forms of gambling.
These are just two of an almost endless number of such stories. Studies also show that when a casino moves in, the rate of gambling addiction in the surrounding community rises significantly. These problem gamblers then provide a disproportionate percent of casino profits.
Our state’s economists have said in public presentations that casinos do not increase economic activity or create a bevy of new jobs. They simply drain dollars from existing businesses where money otherwise would be spent.
Whether viewing gambling from the perspective of social ills or unfulfilled economic impact, the evidence is compelling. More gambling equals more gambling addicts and more addicts mean more problems for individuals, for families, for communities and for Florida. We can and should strive for real economic development with high-wage, high-value jobs that lifts up families and communities, not get-rich quick schemes that threaten them with harm.