The whir of the slots, the clatter of dice, the rapid wush-wush of expertly dealt cards: the sights and sounds of the casino are designed to draw our attention and entice us to try our luck. We start with the cheap slots, watching the pictures spin by. Three in a row and there is that instant buzz of success as our winnings are displayed and chips tumble out. This is clearly our lucky day.
We gather our chips and move on, taking our chances. We win some, we lose some. The pile of chips grows and we float on a cloud of success. Then it begins to shrink — but just one more game and we can win it all back.
Such is the perpetual hope of the gambler. The next game could be the big win. Just one more.
Each year, over 100 million Americans gamble. For many, it is a mere occasional pastime — a trip to Vegas, a few lottery tickets when the numbers are too big to ignore. We recognize it for what it is — expensive entertainment with little chance of coming out ahead. We can walk away after a day at the casino and go back to our regular life. For some, however, gambling takes the driver’s seat. When this happens, it can wreak utter havoc, draining savings accounts, leading to mortgage foreclosures, destroying marriages, and leaving many caught in a web of lies.
In his book, Inside the Mind of a Gambler: The Hidden Addiction and How to Stop, author Stephen Renwick delves into the psychology of gambling by exploring the life of a compulsive gambler called Guy.
Guy’s first memory of gambling was winning £100 on a scratch card in his teens. In Guy’s twenties, Renwick writes, he started to play the slots after work, then moved on to the roulette wheel and larger sums. Soon the amounts he owed ballooned.
After a win, Guy tells Renwick, gamblers “are looking for that same fix again. They’ll spend everything they have and more to get it. This is when you know you’re a compulsive gambler and need help. It’s almost as though winning any amount would not be enough.”
Like many, Guy kept his debt a secret from his girlfriend for eight years, eventually confessing when the strain was too much to bear — and forever altering the course of their relationship. Eventually, Guy finds himself searching for spare change, and finally recognizes how dire things have become. It is at this point that he begins to take steps to regain control of his life.
“One reason I gambled is that it gave me a rush and a huge thrill,” Guy tells Renwick. But it did more than that. “Gambling helped me escape my anxiety and depression. I felt I hadn’t made the most of my life. I dreamt of being married with a happy family, kids and nice home.” Winning money, Guy says, “would have made life easier,” adding, “I could win a lot and then be accepted and liked by others.”
In the end, though, Guy’s hopes cost him over £100,000 in losses. Through Renwick, he shares his advice to others in similar straits on how he overcame his addiction.
Then, in the second half of the book, Renwick goes into some of the research behind our current understanding of gambling. He includes different perspectives on how gambling starts, what leads people to continue, and what may trigger a relapse, exploring genetic, cognitive, and learning theory perspectives. He also describes possible treatment, including cognitive behavioral therapy.
Renwick ends the book with a note on life after gambling from Guy, who offers this: “Be kind to yourself and focus on your qualities rather than on what you’re lacking. … You can break the pattern of your addiction if you are willing to take things day by day and use baby steps.” And, Guy tells readers, it is okay to ask for help.
Renwick’s short text is a primer on gambling addiction. As a basic overview, it will probably not be of interest to the professional who is likely to have already been exposed to this information. However, it may be useful to those curious about this significant problem, particularly those with friends and family affected by it.
Inside the Mind of a Gambler: The Hidden Addiction and How to Stop
Trafford, September 2015
Paperback, 88 pages