March Madness also feeds gambling fever
My View • This is good time to act against risky behavior
In the world of addiction, the second week of March is known as 'National Problem Gambling Awareness Week.' The goal is to educate the public and health care professionals about the warning signs of problem gambling and raise awareness about available help.
Ironically, during the same week, the rest of the world is gearing up for March Madness - a perfect description for those suffering with a gambling addiction.
For most, March Madness is nothing more than entertainment: three weeks of high-octane drama played out among 65 teams all vying for college basketball's biggest prize. For the compulsive gambler, each day can bring great distress. 'The Big Dance' is a 24-hour temptation to gamble.
Sports gambling analyst Danny Sheridan estimates more than $7 billion is illegally wagered via brackets distributed in offices, circles of friends, online betting and bets with bookies. In addition, the National Collegiate Athletic Association estimates that one in 10 Americans will complete a tournament bracket. Experts say the last-second, buzzer-beating baskets, the euphoria of seeing a team win and live to play another game and the witnessed agony of losing and going home creates the frenzy. For problem gamblers, the money riding on the games is more important than the nostalgia.
With so many people participating in the madness, it's a time to take a second look at the behavior of your friends, co-workers or even yourself. Some of the warning signs of a problem gambler include: a constant fixation on gambling; risking more than he or she can afford; using gambling as an escape; lying about the amount of time and money spent on gambling; trying to win back losses with more gambling; and gambling despite losing relationships and risking school or career.
Here in Oregon more than 74,000 adults, or 2.7 percent, are believed to meet the criteria of a problem or pathological gambler. Yet only a fraction of these men and women seek treatment. Many Oregonians don't know they can receive treatment services at no cost. The Oregon Lottery dedicates 1 percent of its profits every year to fund problem gambling treatment.
With 40 outpatient treatment clinics across the state, recovery services are closer than most think. And treatment works: A recent survey found more than 40 percent of those who received problem gambling services were not gambling at all six months after treatment ended.
As March Madness begins, please be aware. For so many, the excitement of the wager continues long after the last basket is made and the trophy is awarded. If you or someone you know has a problem with gambling, you can call the Oregon Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-877-MY-LIMIT or chat online with a certified gambling counselor at www.1877mylimit.org.
Paul D. Potter is the problem gambling services manager for the Oregon Department of Human Services. He lives in Salem.