PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20080501_Help_for_women_with_gambling_addictions.html

Help for women with gambling addictions

In the second of two commentaries on problem gambling, an Arizona woman whose addiction to slot machines led to prison tells how her Web site gives troubled women a place to share their struggles. 

“It had me in its grip like a damned Rottweiler, tearing at my very soul.” Quotes from three women with one thing in common: problem gambling.

“It was like I had set my house on fire and it was burning before my eyes.”

“I . . . drove home once through red lights, hoping someone would smash into my car.”

 

Compulsive gambling is a silent addiction. You can’t smell it or taste it, and you can’t get in trouble unless you do something illegal.

Illegal activity is often where it leads. I should know; I embezzled a fortune, more than $300,000, and ended up in prison. That was 17 years ago, and after my release I never gambled again.

When I joined Gamblers Anonymous (GA), there were very few women in the program. I noticed women would attend meetings once or twice and not return. I wanted to help. I thought if I could write something they could identify with, they might keep coming back. I started out with a two-page newsletter, which I mailed to other groups in Arizona, where I lived. When a friend loaded the information onto the Internet, it really took off.

Women from all over the world began sending me the heart-rending stories of their addiction. They play slot machines, spin roulette wheels, toss dice, and place bets over the Internet. Some spend hours a day doing this; others binge for days at a time.

Lying to their husbands and children – and sometimes themselves – they try to explain why money is tight and there’s no cash for mortgages, food, utilities, or even Christmas gifts. For some of these women, my Internet site was their only outlet because there were no GA meetings where they lived.

The lengths women go to in order to support their addiction surprise even them. Some women have left infants in cars while they were gambling. Some have prostituted themselves to feed their addiction. A lady in prison whom I write to held up several banks. Women embezzle thousands of dollars to finance their gambling.

I was arrested in December 1990 for embezzling from my employer, a fertilizer company. I lost my home, my retirement savings, and my job. I served nearly all of a two-year prison sentence. After my release, I met with three women in my apartment complex and we started the first Women Preferred GA meeting. I’m told it’s the first in the world. We meet weekly; the group will celebrate its 16th anniversary in June.

Let me share a few of the e-mails I have received:

A young woman in Guatemala with two small children has a “very serious and secret” illness, and there is no help for her; there are no GA meetings in her country. She became addicted to gambling at home, using the Internet.

A woman in Australia wrote, “I spent my days and nights in the poker rooms with men; my husband and I divorced, I lost my home, and pawned my car. I wasn’t ready to stop. I continued to gamble for 12 more years and almost died. I spent eight months in prison for fraud, and contemplated suicide.”

This is from a woman in Arizona: “I went to [a] fair when I was 15 and lost my mom’s grocery money trying to win a teddy bear. A few years later, I found the casinos and the disease engulfed me.”

A young mother in South Africa said, “I clearly remember walking out of the casino, hating myself and wishing I could die on the way home.

The parents of a beautiful, intelligent 31-year-old Canadian woman who committed suicide found a note addressed to her gambling addiction, “you turned me into a liar, a thief and a con . . . going to court for fraud and writing bad cheques.”

From a Philadelphia woman: “I first visited [your Women Helping Women Web site] when I was living in Tucson, Ariz., and struggling with my gambling problem. During half-hearted attempts at quitting, I continued to turn to help sites. Several years later, and a relocation back to my home in Philadelphia (and a descent into hell), I finally placed my last bet on Sept. 24, 2004.”

Gambling addiction is not prejudiced. It affects rich and poor, young and old, and it knows no racial barriers. Letters come to me from teachers, college students, nurses, accountants and grandmothers. They come from all over the United States and from around the globe.

Some, lacking GA meetings nearby, have found support through the computer. I shared my story with them, and now they are sharing their stories of pain and hope with others.

There is a bond, a kinship, among us. We are women, and we are recovering compulsive gamblers.

 


Marilyn Lancelot of Yuma, Ariz., visited her first casino in 1984 when she was 53. Every weekend for seven years, she and her boyfriend made the four-hour trip to Laughlin, Nev., to gamble, she on the slot machines. In 1990, with her 5-year-old grandson and two of her daughters looking on, police arrested her for embezzling. She served 10 months in Arizona State Prison and is still making restitution to her former employer. She is the author of “Gripped by Gambling” (www.grippedbygambling.com), available on Amazon.com.      

By Marilyn Lancelot