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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Reader stories of state-sponsored addiction

Oregon Lottery: Reader stories of state-sponsored addiction (day 4)

The Oregonian By The OregonianThe Oregonian
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on November 27, 2013

Selling addiction

The Oregonian invited readers to share Oregon Lottery experiences in a questionnaire. Because of the personal nature of comments, many asked that their names be withheld all or in part. Read more and share your story at We’ll offer more in the days ahead.

Julie Lechuga, 55, of Tigard:
Where (did) you typically play?
Since I don't drink, it was never bars. Mostly it was place like area Chinese restaurants, Shari's, Elmer’s, Dotty's, Foxy's, corner coffee/pastry places. Regardless of which locale, the atmosphere was generally the same -- secluded, somewhat dark, no clocks, no window viewing access. Ideally, each facility is designed in order for you to lose track of the amount of time you are busy gambling. Employees generally greet you very warmly, sort of like on the old Ted Danson series "Cheers," everyone knows your name. I believe this is designed to make it feel like you were a bunch of friends getting together and that the gambling is just a “side” factor in the get-together. EVERY facility has an ATM right there and, frequently, it's no more than 5 feet from the machines.
How much money [did] you spend on a typical outing to play video poker or line games?
When I was actively gambling, it was not uncommon to get paid at lunch on payday and to have spent the whole check (almost $1,500) on line games by the end of the night. In hindsight, it's funny how I'd be unwilling to spend $40 on a desperately needed new pair of shoes but think nothing of putting $400 into a machine.
What do you enjoy about playing lottery games?
Ha! Nothing anymore. When actively gambling, it seemed like a sanctuary of sorts. A place to go and de-stress from work prior to heading home to any problems that might be going on there. The more interactive the game, the more it appealed to me. Video poker did nothing for me since that seemed like work when I was actually looking to "check out."
Have you ever lost more than you could afford?
I always lost more than I could afford. The $20 I intended on spending became $80, which quickly became $200 … Gambling losses resulted in my filing bankruptcy in March 2012 and in borrowing from almost anyone I could in order to pay enough of my bills to not lose my car or housing.
When you play, do you sometimes feel you have a problem stopping even though you know you should?
Yes, I did. My last date gambled was 3/15/13 and despite having been in gambling addictions treatment since October 2011, I now finally feel like I have a grip on the problem. There are a few things that would occur when I was gambling. Probably the most harmful is the distorted thinking. Money ceased being real. It became like play or Monopoly money, having little value. Of course, when I had put the paycheck into the bank, it held real value for me, but once I was in front of a machine, that changed and the money coming out of the ATM no longer seemed to have the same value coming out of the bank account as it did when it went in. I would sit down at a machine, notice the time counter at the bottom of the screen and if it read 6, I'd think, OK, I'm giving myself until 6:30 then I'm out of here. The next thing I knew it would be 9.
Have you ever sought help for gambling addiction?
Yes. I started treatment at LifeWorks in Tigard in October 2011. This was mandated by my boss since I was not functioning well at work, would disappear for hours and had already borrowed and paid back almost $5,000 from him to get out of the first lottery hole I dug. Treatment consisted of, and continues to consist of, one-hour-long individual sessions with my gambling addictions counselor as well as two group therapy sessions each week. Learning the hows and whys of why certain people become addicted to gambling has been crucial to my recovery. It’s easy to understand why alcoholics and drug addicts have problems; they are putting drugs into their systems. It’s not so easy for people to understand how you can become addicted to something when you aren't adding chemicals. The trick with gambling, though, is that your brain is automatically adding the chemicals -- you don't have to.
Has your life been affected by problem gambling?
Yes. Work, family, friends have all been affected. As a “pathological gambler,” other things in my life seemed less important and got less of my attention than they should. Of course, my finances were destroyed. Ultimately, in October 2012, after having relapsed, my daughter staged the fastest intervention known to man. Basically, it was a, "You have three hours to get your (stuff) packed, you are coming up here (Silverdale, WA), and it's not open to argument." I've had to borrow money from my elderly parents twice. My daughter, son-in-law and three grandsons have moved to Whidbey Island, and my youngest (6-year-old) grandson was very worried about my recent trip to see them because of the number of casinos I would have to pass to get to where they live.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Those of us who are problem gamblers, have a gambling addiction, are pathological or compulsive gamblers or any other name you choose to give us are still valuable human beings and worthy of receiving help. People need to understand that treatment and support is also available for family or household members and that those programs are also FREE. The general population needs to understand about the addictive brain and learn how to recognize and help those with addiction problems.

55-year-old Damascus man:
Do you know other people who have a problem with gambling?
My soon-to-be ex-wife is a gambling addict. In about 2000, she gambled more than $100,000 away on video poker. In the last three years, she has stolen about $45,000 from our family and gambled it away. She has been through rehabilitation twice but is in total denial about the extent of her problem and shows no inclination to change her behavior. I have recently filed for divorce as I just can't do this anymore.
Do you think the benefits from Oregon Lottery revenues — to schools, parks and such — outweigh the harm caused by problem gambling?
I’m sure the revenues help, but to families like ours, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. This addiction has turned beautiful person into someone I don't even know.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Twenty-five years of marriage will end soon. I can't lay all the blame on video poker, and yet I wonder what life could have been like if we hadn't had the financial crisis, lies and dishonesty.

59-year-old Portland woman:
Have you ever lost more than you could afford?
All the time. I would go in whatever place with the intention of only playing $20 but had a few nice spins. Somehow I have a $40 balance, and I cash out intending to pocket my original $20. I go back and play with my winnings and am now losing. I put in my next $20 and lose that. I feel really down, so I go and pull money out of the ATM to see if I can win back my original $20 plus whatever I pulled out of the ATM. This was my cycle more often then not.
Has your life been affected by problem gambling?
At first it was exciting to win some more money than I bet. But to keep that “high” that you get from winning, I kept “finding” money either from my checking account, cash withdrawal from credit cards or money intended for house payments. Then it got to be that I needed more money to just pay bills. In my mind I usually tried to turn $300 to $900 for bills. Sometimes it worked, but then it didn't for many weeks, then it turned into months. Any extra money that came in from Christmas gifts or refunds was usually “gambling” money.
A few years ago, I told family members that I wasn't giving out new Christmas gifts and was shopping at thrift stores for gifts. And that they could do the same. That was because I didn't want to spend extra money on gifts that I knew they were not going to like. Then the last two years, I told them I was forgoing even giving gifts and they could do the same to me. All I thought about every single day was where could I get money for “playing.” In the end, I thought I was going to explode from the inside. I couldn't sleep. I was depressed. I was crying all the time. I was not enjoying it anymore but was on this merry-go-round of trying to win back the money I lost. I was not interested in any of my hobbies like gardening or sewing or even reading anymore.


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