Gambling addiction on rise in West Virginia

Bob Cabaniss, our Executive Director, was interviewed by the Register-Herald a local newspaper in West Virginia. Here is the article:

April 18, 2011
Gambling addiction on rise in state

By Mannix Porterfield Register-Herald Reporter The Register-Herald Mon Apr 18, 2011, 12:02 AM EDT

BECKLEY – Bob Cabaniss knows well the perils of gambling, an addictive hobby laden with pitfalls that plunge the hooked into dark caverns of despair, often with no escape route.

For him, the most enticing form of wagering was in the arena of sports.

And it nearly made him a total loser in life, once he went through a tidy sum of money – a common tale among gamblers.

“It was bad,” says the founder and owner of Williamsville Wellness, a treatment center in Hanover, Va., just north of Richmond.

“I lost a lot of money. I almost lost my marriage. Luckily, I didn’t get to that depth of gambling. I started with a pretty large amount of money, and I ended up with a small amount of money.”

Based on his own grim experiences, Cabaniss launched a private facility to help gamblers overcome the urge to splurge at lottery outlets, poker machines, casinos, athletic gambling outlets and the like.

Not a week passes that he doesn’t get several calls from West Virginia gamblers mired in some form of wagering.

Monday, he plans to be on the campus of Marshall University, then at the Capitol in Charleston on Tuesday with a request to hook up with the state to accept West Virginians on a contracted basis. He also wants to appear at West Virginia University.

“Every place has a gambling problem,” he said. “It’s just the matter of magnitude. Yes, you have a gambling problem in West Virginia. Yes, it’s getting worse.”

As access to gambling expands, he said, the problem is exacerbated.

“We’re talking about a small percentage of the population,” Cabaniss said in a telephone interview.

“It’s not a huge percentage of the populace that’s having a gambling problem. But as access becomes easier, more people gamble, and within that small percentage there is a problem.”

West Virginia recently approved table games at race tracks, along with a casino at The Greenbrier, although the latter isn’t considered troublesome for state residents by Cabaniss, given the fact it is more upscale and more difficult for most West Virginians to reach.

Considering all the forms of gambling, however, Cabaniss says “thousands” in this state are beset with a problem. And he constantly hears the woeful tales of those victimized by games of chance.

“They have lost everything,” he said.

Cabaniss says some have turned to Gamblers Anonymous but this approach has been lacking, since it doesn’t provide one-on-one treatment.

Typically, when a gambler runs through his resources, his turns to embezzlement at his place of employment. Seldom does a gambler turn to violent crime, such as a bank stickup.

“But if they have access to funds, whether it be the family funds, a lot of times they take money from parents or grandparents, or their wives,” Cabaniss said.

“They run up credit card bills. Or falsify information on credit card forms. I’ve had people embezzle from various companies. That’s the normal, at the first stage of gambling addiction. At the very end stage, oftentimes you commit suicide. It’s the highest suicide rate of any addiction. Even drugs.”

Cabaniss describes the success rate of the program provided by his eight therapists as “very high.”

“Do you get cured?” he repeated the question.

“It’s something like alcohol. You become a nondrinker. If you gamble, will you become a compulsive gambler again? There’s a good chance you will. So, you’re never really cured. You become a nongambler. It’s not a problem. You don’t think about it. It’s not there any more. That’s great recovery. There are various stages of that. Some people fight it every day.

“There’s no pill you can take to cure you. We have by far the best success rate of any place in the country, but it’s not 100 percent. Gambling addiction is more of a mental addiction. There’s no substance there.”

Cabaniss says he can readily understand why the allure of gambling is so pervasive nowadays.

“You become a gambling addict or a compulsive gambler with the ease of it, with the speed of it, and with the illusion of winning,” he said.

With lotteries, where a number is assigned and one must wait until the end of the day, the addictive power is less, he said, but with scratch-off tickets all three elements come into play – access, instant results and the allure of winning.

“In West Virginia, you have video poker terminals,” he said. “There you have the ease, you have the illusion of winning, and you have tremendous speed. They’re very addictive.”

The same holds true with casino gambling, where slot machines provide quick results and the promise of hefty payoffs to the winners.

“Thirty years ago, a huge lottery check was $300,000, and now it’s $300 million,” Cabaniss said.

Three decades ago, the one-armed bandits enticed players with $1,000 prizes but now can offer $20 million while a gambler pushes a button.

What many gamblers don’t understand, or simply refuse to accept, is that the house, be it private enterprise or a state-run lottery system, wins most of the time, Cabaniss said.

“The house doesn’t always win, but the house wins,” he said. “The only way you can win is not to play.”

For the complete article, please visit this site: http://www.register-herald.com/todaysfrontpage/x7461893/Gambling-addiction-on-rise-in-state