Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Those with gambling issues can get help locally


Gambling can be a fun recreational pasttime and proves to benefit the community in different ways. However, due to the nature of gambling, the risk and the possibility of reward, some people become addicted.

Three percent of Nebraskans have a gambling problem. Three percent may not seem like a large figure, but the actual number represented by that percentage is 56,070. With that many people being affected adversely by gambling, Nebraska has set aside money from the gambling dollars produced in order to provide help to those who need it.

Similar to a drug addiction, gambling stimulates the reward center of the brain. This area of the brain produces dopamine to the body, which makes people feel good. Over time, some gamblers, much like drug addicts, become immune to smaller risks.

“The small risks don’t do it anymore. They need a bigger bet. Scratch cards don’t do it, they need higher stakes as they become more immune to the affects of their less risky bets,” said Ron Felton, certified disordered gambling counselor with the Panhandle Mental Health Center.

The need to make bigger bets will often consume those with a gambling issue, often to the point where they do not care if there is illegal activity involved.

“Many of these gamblers will turn to illegal sports betting. They might not get immediate results like they do with a scratcher card, but the risk is much higher as is the rush they get when the end of that game they put $5,000 on, is ending,” Felton said.

In Felton’s experience, he sees a lot of older people with a gambling disorder. They are often addicted to the scratch cards and pickle cards.

“Now, there isn’t anything wrong with gambling for fun. It becomes a problem when you gamble above your means. We see a lot of people on fixed incomes gambling more than they should,” Felton said.

Gambling ages varying, and Felton has dealt with people who have started gambling as young as 10.

“You know they go to the track and dad puts a bet on a horse for them, they can start very young. In fact it’s not surprising to see a lot of betting on college campuses on the sports there. Even in some high schools it has become an issue, and the younger they start the steadier the climb to placing really outrageous bets,” Felton said.

Felton works with the Panhandle Health Center to provide gambling counseling for the Nebraska Panhandle. He is currently the only counselor in the area, though not for long. There are currently five individuals from Scottsbluff’s mental health facility who are undergoing the necessary class hours to become certified gambling disorder counselors.

Panhandle Mental Health has provided the public with ways to spot problem gambling. The warning signs of problem gambling are: an individual being preoccupied with gambling and unable to stop, bragging about gambling, exaggerating wins minimizing losses, restless and irritable when not gambling, gambling to win back what was lost, borrowing money for gambling, lying to hide time spent gambling or unpaid debts, frequent unexplained absences, losing work time because of gambling, doing something illegal to get money in order to gamble or pay back debt, jeopardizing a significant relationship or job by gambling.

Often times those who are problem gamblers are not the only ones affected adversely by their addiction. Family members can be affected by financial turmoil, and in some cases, the issues lead to physical abuse.

“We want people in the area to know that there is help for this sort of thing. Nebraska sets aside that money from gambling dollars, not tax dollars, specifically for helping people with gambling disorders. We want those with the problem to call, family members can call and that is often the case,” Felton said.

Felton also explained how having family members involved in any case can be very important.

“Family should try to learn about the situation because often times they are enablers. They bail their loved one out, when they owe debt or want more money to gamble. Once a family stops doing that they can truly start helping that gambler,” Felton said.

Families should try to be sensitive if they have a family member with a gambling disorder because there are different ways the want to gamble can be triggered. Sports gamblers might be tempted to relapse merely by reading the sports section of the newspaper. Casino gamblers may want to gamble after hearing slot machines or other ambient sounds found in casinos.

“The thing is that everyone’s trigger is different and they know what does it, families should try to be considerate of that,” Felton said.

Those prone to problem gambling must also make an effort to stop themselves before it becomes more than a mere game. Setting a dollar limit has proven effective for some, while another way may be to set a time limit for gambling. Accepting that when gambling one is more likely to lose than win is an important thing to acknowledge. Do not borrow money to gamble, and do not let it become a substitute or interfere with friends, family or work. Do not use gambling to cope with physical or emotional pain. A very important precaution is to not try to regain losses, accept the losses and don’t go over the set gambling amount for oneself.

There is an effort being made to make gambling counseling readily available in the panhandle. This counseling is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is free and confidential. Felton also encourages the use of the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700.

“It’s free it’s confidential, we really want to help people. We are encouraging families and individuals to seek the help they need, before they end up doing something they regret,” Felton said.


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