Growing Old Gambling Part 2

O’HARE: You can never be too old to get this addiction, but you can also never be too old to get the recovery, and that’s really the message that we need them to hear. JERRY BAUERKEMPER: Most people think the only form of gambling is casinos.

Almost 50% of them have a gambling problem that is not casino-based. Sports gambling, scratch-offs, keno. A person last night called on our helpline at 2am, 68-year-old male, middle of our state, who is a keno player, but he’s also a horse player. So he calls our helpline, and he doesn’t go to a casino, he never goes to a casino.

And yet he’s calling us at two in the morning saying, you know, “This is, it’s over my head. “And I’m in big trouble.” (crowd chatters softly) BAUERKEMPER: First of all I train counselors.

I do a lot of training around how counselors should work with gamblers. I wanna concentrate a little bit on the moral reasoning. Man walked into my office and said, “I need gambling help.”

And he said, “I robbed people to get gambling money, “only this last time, when I was robbing them, “the person I robbed fell in front of a train.” BAUERKEMPER: Hey, my friend. NARRATOR: Addiction treatment specialists in the region are here for training at the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Conference in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. In the 1990’s, state-sponsored lottery and native American-owned casinos were introduced to Wisconsin. Today, statistics suggest 333,000 state residents have a gambling problem.

Seniors and adolescents have the highest risk of developing a gambling addiction. The average age of female gamblers calling the Wisconsin gambling helpline is 64 years old. BAUERKEMPER: There’s a lot of people workin’ with alcohol and drugs. There’s a lot of people working with bipolars and depressions. There’s not a lot of people working with people who have gambling issues. They sit in the shadows, and they suffer by themselves.

And they don’t have to. And so my goal is to bring them out, and say, you know, “There’s hope and there’s help for you too.” GAMBLING AD: You could win $1,00 a day for life! DON FEENEY: You can make the argument that the generation that is most susceptible for develop gambling as a problematic behavior are the baby boomers.

When I started looking at the risk factors for gambling addiction, they seemed to me to be concentrated in baby boomers. Isolation, the sense of guilt, stigma, forbidden fruit, you know, the more repetitive forms of gambling where you can drop an awful lot of money very, very quickly, seem to be where the baby boomers’ preferences lie. Older gamblers seem to be much more drawn to the big jackpot games.

You know, the billion-dollar jackpot holes, much more appeal to them, the fantasy of that. It’s become a very interesting challenge for the… lottery industry to look at, how do we remain a long-term, viable source of generating income for state programs? LITTLE GIRL: Lottery!

Do you hear me!?!?! Lottery! FEENEY: One of the things that we try to do is tell parents, please don’t give your kids lottery tickets as gifts, particularly at Christmas. It’s just not a good idea. A big indicator of developing a gambling problem isn’t so much what gambling activity you do, it’s the number of different gambling activities that you do. So people who find themselves in treatment programs are people who are buying lottery tickets, and playing slot machines, and maybe playing cards at the casino while they’re at it, and then gambling when they go out to the bar.

KEVIN: I just lost control. I don’t know. I couldn’t stop. I did just about anything. It was growing to the point where I was lookin’ for things to gamble with.

I mean pull-tabs and stuff, I never did any of that. But it was to the point where I’d go out to the bar just to do that. And I knew it was a waste of time, I knew it was a waste of money, but I’d still do it. Cleared out the last of my 401K, but I had before that, I borrowed some money from my brother-in-law. I promised him that I would give him his money back when I got the check from that 401K.

I didn’t go and give him his money back. I went right straight to the casino. And tried to win more. I knew I needed help, and I couldn’t manage anything. I went to a hospital, and I seen the security guys out in the parking lot, and said, “Where do you go if you just don’t wanna live anymore?”

It’s just that, I was hopeless. He showed me to the emergency room, and I spent a couple of days in a psych ward. (gentle piano music) They made the phone call to Project Turnabout. (gentle piano music) What I learned was, that people were a lot like me, and I wasn’t alone.

(gentle piano music) NARRATOR: Protected by prairie grass and granite, Project Turnabout in Granite Falls, Minnesota, is a non-profit, 122-bed in-patient campus focused on the treatment of addiction. ZANA BLOMBERG: This is your safe place to share your story. This quilt was made by past peers and alumni. SHERYL ANDERSON: We’re an inpatient residential program, and what that means is that people do come here, they stay here. Right around 30 days would be the average length of stay.

And we’ll find a counselor that deals specifically with gambling on an outpatient type of basis. Back to wherever they’re from. NARRATOR: There are no FDA-approved medications for treating gambling disorders. Counseling and 12-step Gamblers Anonymous programs are common therapies. ANDERSON: We meet the best people in the world comin’ through our doors.

They don’t know that they are, they don’t even know that they’re worth anything. But it’s incredible to meet people and to see that glimmer of hope. If you look across the country, there’s no shortage of casino types of gambling venues, whether they be state operated, or tribally operated. In a rural area, there aren’t a lot of things to do.

DR. DENNIS McNEILLY: A lot of the older group hadn’t gambled until gambling became locally available. Some people would refer to this as kind of a hidden addiction among this age group, because the current cohort of older adults tend to be rather stoic, and so they tend to want to take care of their own problems. (gentle music) NARRATOR: Dr. Dennis McNeilly uncovers gambling problems in older adults, here at the Center for Successful Aging, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

DR. McNEILLY: We understand it a lot more with the PET scans, with the neuroimaging scans. We understand sort of the corollaries between those who develop gambling problems and sort of how the brain gets lit up as they say, gets activated, similar to folks who have cocaine addiction. So we understand it a lot better, the pathways, and we’re also much better about understanding the cravings that people who are gamblers have. (quiet, intense music) DR. McNEILLY: I always go back to one of the first patients that I saw, they’d had a slight stroke, and then they were in the hospital. And then in the hospital they decided that this person was depressed, so then they asked me to go and see the person and evaluate them.

And in the course of that, I found out that they had, you know, maxed out all their credit cards, and then the couple had to declare bankruptcy, you know. All because of this sort of unknown, hidden. And the shame, the humiliation. And yet they were trying to get out of this, and trying to get out of this, and got stuck. So I’ve really sort of taken this on, and then thought that this was a good way to educate medical students and our psychiatry residents, so that they start to screen for gambling problems in the same way they screen for tobacco, you know, or alcohol, or anything else. That it’s something that, you know, it’s part of everybody, and it’s certainly gonna be more a part of people’s lives as we have lots of younger folks who, you know, have been attracted and continue to gamble, and gambling becomes very popular, and it’s more culturally mainstream.

BAUERKEMPER: For 30 years I’ve been fighting the federal governments, the state governments, the state agencies, the private industries, the gaming industries, to spend just a little bit of time, effort, and money to help people that have this problem. And with states that either authorize gambling or have their own forms of gambling, you know, I think it’s a public safety issue. Come on, if you’re gonna do this, and you’re gonna make money at it, help the people who are devastated. You don’t have to help the social gambler that goes in, spends 20 bucks, and that’s it. You have to help the people that aren’t, that spend their life savings.

ELIZABETH: I don’t think people can appreciate a gambling addiction like they do alcohol or drug addiction. I think they think it’s just willpower. You know, some people might say that about drug and alcohol too, but there’s a chemical that binds and makes you have that addiction. Whereas gambling, it’s a choice that you make to literally walk in the door, plunk your money in, and keep playing until you have no more.

People don’t understand that. That you can’t stop. When it’s an addiction. (gentle piano music) (quiet, intense music) Captioning by Finke/NET (quiet, intense music) Copyright 2018, NET Foundation for Television.

The previous part of the interview here: /growing-old-gambling/

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