By Kathy Marks and Jeff Hewitt
When we think of gambling, we think of glamorous Las Vegas, the inviting sound of slot machines pouring out buckets of quarters, or the soft green felt that is so alluring on the high rollers tables. It all seems like a million dollar dream. Then the nightmare that is known as compulsive gambling sets in. Amidst all the flash and luxury of Vegas, Atlantic City, and all the casinos of California, there is an epidemic that is known as problem gambling. When all is said and done it is just like any other addiction, an obsession, an allergy, and a spiritual malady. From the perception we have seen, the people afflicted have hurt, manipulated and wrecked their lives to a place where they had nowhere to turn but to accept some sort of treatment or help.
The good news is we have also seen countless people recover from this addiction as well, however the legal or emotional wreckage they have caused seems to be less understood. For example, when someone gets arrested for drugs or commits a crime under the influence, most likely they will be put under a diversion or drug treatment related program, Society as a whole has a lot more compassion for criminal acts committed under the influence of mind altering substances. When the problem gambler steals to support their habit they are seen as criminals, not as a person who is in the grips of a progressive illness. The failure to realize this is tragic, for the compulsive gambler does not get help and it does not solve the problem. With out help, the pattern of the problem gambler, is bound to repeat their history. The justice system will punish the criminal act but do nothing to stop the problem.
Our proposal is to treat the compulsive gambler for the addiction, thus treating the cause of the problem, which the crime is just a bi-product of. I believe that Media and society as a whole have overlooked this for far too long. Its time for us as a community, to stand up and recognize this compulsion for what it is: a disease that needs treatment.