Retired women bundled up in their patched coats, with their purses carelessly thrown on the ground, completely taken by the lights and sounds of the slot machine in an anonymous, gray bar. Widowers sitting on a stool in a noisy game room, their cigar butts slowly dying, as they stare at a video poker game. Then there are those who prefer to remain in the solitude of their own homes, removed from possible judgement by others, to play endless gambling games on an online casino that promises easy and immediate winnings. This is no bleak plot of a film noir, but unfortunately, a sad, distressing, and increasingly common reality in countries around the globe.
The majority of these individuals are elderly, retired, widows; those who are alone and marginalized, with psychological problems and social hardships. They are the fragile people of society, often abandoned by their own families, who don’t have the strength to say no to the dark evil of their dependencies. These people end up squandering the small pension or savings from a life of solitude at a bar or in front of a computer screen.
Gambling: A Terrible Tunnel of Dependency
There’s a name for this: addiction to gambling. Its a serious pathological dependency, which has many connections with the dynamics of drug and alcohol addiction. The person affected by a gambling addiction, just as in other types of addictions, is no longer the master of himself; he loses the capacity to dominate his own impulses and emotions. The disease is devestating: it increases the more that you play the game. The more time you spend playing, the more time you spend trying to recover what was lost, and you end up investing way beyond your means. People often end up borrowing money and racking up debt, not to mention neglecting their daily duties. The game becomes an obsession, a vortex that is almost impossible to escape. You enter into a dark tunnel of addiction, with despair and malaise. The most common symptoms of those who suffer from a gambling addiction are:
- complete mental absorbtion in the game the entire day. For example, someone who is constantly trying to relive the experiences of the game, or planning the next move, or devising ways to obtain more money for the next game;
- the need to the bet increasingly larger amounts of money in order to reach the desired state of excitement;
- intense restlessness and irritability when the person cannot play;
- it is not uncommon that after having lost, the person immediately seeks a rematch, chasing their own losses;
- frequent lying to one’s own family or therapist to hide the whole truth about their own involvement in gambling.
Slot Machines and Video Poker: Shocking Numbers
Some of the most common forms of gambling are slot machines and video poker, unfortunately present in most bars and public spaces. Governments silently support it, as they reap plenty of money from this immense business. To give an example, some estimates affirm that only in 2014, the Italian government banked eight million in tax revenue from the gambling industry, which is almost 15 thousand euros a second. It’s an outrageous reality, built upon the desperation of millions of people. Worldwide, some analysts speak of a total turnover in 2015 of even 450 billion.
Slot machines and video poker are already a shocking phenomenon. It is estimated that only in Italy there have been over 400 thousand machines installed, one for every 150 inhabitants. It is a scandalous density, especially if we consider that there are just 18 thousand pharmacies for a population of over 60 million inhabitants. Japon has the greatest number of active slot machines in the world, almost 4.6 million, while in the US there are over 750 thousand, concentrated mostly in Las Vegas.
Online Gambling: The New Fontier in Virtual Casinos
In the era of multimedia era and the Internet, you don’t need to go to bingo anymore. All you need now is a computer and a credit card, and you can connect to one of the thousands of virtual casinos. It is easy to see how online gambling is so extremely dangerous; in the solitude of one’s own home, the player has no blocks or limits. In fact, he has the possibility to always be connected to the game, without encountering the judgement of others. From a simple hobby, the game becomes an uncontrollable addiction. Here, as in other diseases, the subject remains imprisoned in a vicious cyle, and in the most severe cases, to the point of neglecting social and family relationships.
Who is Responsible for Gambling?
The increase in gambling addictions, particularly among the elderly, is an allarming sign of a problem that cannot be ignored any further. This addiction has drastically increased in recent years with the legalization and diffusion of concessions in public spaces throughout the world, especially in Japon and Italy. Serious initiatives are needed, such as publically awarding bars without slot machines, in an effort to promote and raise public awareness on this issue concerning culture and health, as has been done in the past for AIDS, drugs and tobacco. Schools and public libraries, hospitals and nursing homes all need to raise awareness through committed efforts. Media campaigns and prevention of certain public and private networks would also be beneficial.
Above all, governments need to commit towards change. Serious policies ought to be enacted that discourage this business, which is beneficial to the Treasury, but detrimental to the public health of a country, especially to her weakest and most needy citizens.
The message that slot machines and video poker can resolve your problems and alleviate your hardships in life ought to be strongly combatted. It’s an empty promise, considering the fact that only the State wins. The dynamic of the game is such that the player never really wins, except for a few coins that provide the illusory encouragement to keep playing.