Feature Archive

Gambling With Your Health

Greater access to gambling can increase addiction.

WebMD Feature

For Patty, frequenting the slot machines at the Indian casino near her home in Southern California was initially an escape from day-to-day worries. It wasn't until she experienced a substantial win that her gambling spun out of control.

"I could pay off all my bills -- it was great!" she recalls. "Then I couldn't stop. Three and a half years later, my husband gave me one last chance before he kicked me out of the house. I blew it." She lost $100 earmarked for groceries, then tried unsuccessfully to step into oncoming traffic and kill herself.

Patty, who credits Gamblers Anonymous with saving her life, is just one recovering gambling addict in the U.S., where ordinary people are increasingly tempted to indulge in multiple forms of betting. Between 1974 and 1996 the percentage of pathological gamblers in the U.S. doubled; an estimated 1.4% of the population now meets the criteria for pathological gambling, according to the 1999 National Gambling Impact Study Commission Report.

Of course, high-stakes risk taking and an enterprising spirit have always been part of the national psychology. Even the Puritans advocated lotteries to finance public work projects in colonial-era America. But gambling images, once exotic, have now flooded mainstream America, from ubiquitous casino ads in Western states to round-the-clock gambling channels on cable TV. And now it?s easier than ever for adults to place bets. Simply log on to the Internet or use the electronic gambling devices in local fast-food and convenience stores.