OK casino business booming; gambling addiction on the rise

Lawton_The Oklahoma lottery is booming.  In fact, the state is now ranked third in the nation for its number of slot machines.  And, according the North American Gaming Almanac, over $2 billion in gambling revenue was collected in 2006 alone.  But, that has also caused another increase - the number of people with gambling addictions.

The Gaming Almanac's report says Oklahoma has one slot machine for every 79 residents.  With a population of over 3.5 million, that makes it a lot easier for someone with a problem to feed it.  Playing the slots is strictly recreational or a way to unwind for most people, but, now that Oklahoma has more than 45,000 of them, it's become much more than a pastime for too many casino goers.

Christian Family Counseling Center Clinic Director Glen Ryswyk says as the number rises, so do those of compulsive and problem gamblers.  "One of the greatest predictors of whether a person is going to have gambling problems is 'do they live within 50 miles of a casino?'" he says.

With so many casinos, chances are they do.  Casinos are keeping Ryswyk busy counseling addicts.  "Since 2004, we had virtually very few requests prior to that.  Now we're having quite a number of them," he says.  And, the North American Gambling Almanac says Oklahoma is close to becoming a gambling destination - attracting people from all over the country.

"The problem with this 'gambling destination' is that it's not just people from the outside coming to Oklahoma to gamble, it's the people here in-state, in the city, that are gambling, who really can't afford to," says Ryswyk.  So, when they do, their debt can be overwhelming.  Ryswyk says addicts are generally between $50,000 and $97,000 in debt and casinos do little to discourage gamblers who can't quit on their own.

The Comanche Nation Casino says they post signs in their building about local help groups.  "The casinos have a responsibility to see those people who are having problems, the people who are staying there all night, or they're going to the ATM over and over and over again to get more and more money," Ryswyk says.

He also says the addiction problem will probably get worse.  "It is increasing and it does appear that the more that people get accustomed to going there, they're more likely to slip into an addictive behavior."  Ryswyk says if you're worried about whether or not you have a gambling problem, there are two definitive questions to ask yourself:  "Do you lie about your gambling and do you spend more money than you wish?"

If your answer is yes to either question, he says you're an addict and need to get help.  One place to get some help is The Lawton Chapter of Oklahoma Gamblers Anonymous.  They meet at the Cameron Baptist Church, Thursday nights at 6.  It's an open meeting and there are also spots available for victims and family members of addicts.