Gambling is a fond pastime for many Trinis. In fact, it is so popular the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) recorded a $300 million profit for 2016/17, this September. However, as many arguments have been posited, there are negative social consequences to it as well.
In last Sunday’s Newsday, Social Development Minister Sherrie-Ann Cockburn-Critchlow announced people who are problem gamblers and their children will soon get special help.
She said, “Gambling in TT has grown exponentially. We now have a lot of women going to casinos and spending long hours in casinos gambling. We also have fathers going to casinos and gambling.” She said this left many children unattended and also not given proper parental support and guidance.
Outside of its wider place in society, there are very personal reasons people gamble – whether it provides hope, comfort, and/or pleasure. This does not negate the problems that develop from gambling addiction but as Newsday, revisits this article, for some older women, it provides the comfort and peace of mind they do not get at home.
The lift in *Suzanne Green’s voice itself demonstrated her excitement as she described how it made her feel. Green insists she is not addicted to gambling, but that it offered comfort when she felt lonely.
This feeling said Green, 57, is why she believes many more women than men gamble. She does not frequently go to the casinos but visits “when I get the feeling,” which could be once a week or month. Many women like Green fill casinos, spending their time and money.
There are no local statistics to provide a gauge as to exactly how many women gamble at casinos but the Online Casino Reports’ website (www.onlinecasionreports.com) says while men still accounted for “the vast majority” of online gamblers, that was shifting.
Women, it says, gamble for different reasons from men such as “letting off steam” and enjoying the “social aspects” of online gambling.
For women like Green, casinos become a place where they can simply be and find comfort in times of solitude.
She told Newsday, “First, I am not a gambler. I started going to the casino when I was under a lot of stress.” She was also lonely and depressed. “The first experience I got sitting by the slot machine... I went into ‘bonus’ and I saw the bonus sign, I felt so happy. I felt like I could win anything.”
It is usually this feeling of euphoria that is linked to gambling addiction.
The website, www.gamblingtreatmenthelpline.com says, “In gambling addicts, engaging in their behaviour of choice, likewise, triggers dopamine production. Addiction to any substance or behaviour is often a result of seeking this dopamine rush; over time the addict comes to rely on the addictive substance or behaviour to trigger dopamine production and to avoid depression, and can feel good no other way.”
For Green, a visit to the casino is as good as a visit to the spa: it helps her relax. She made her first visit, some five years ago, when a friend persuaded her to go, at a time when she was battling a lot of personal issues.
“The first time I went to the casino I had $7,” she said with a slight laugh. “I told my friend, ‘I don’t like to gamble.’ And she said, ‘You not gambling, it will help you relax.’ The first time I put in $5 and I played five lines and lost.
“The second time, she came and said, ‘Let’s go to the casino.’ I had $7. I kept playing $1, $1. She came and asked if I was ready to go. I was down to my last $2, and I told her ‘yes let me just play out the last $2’.”
“When I put in the last dollar, I saw a lot of numbers on the machine – I had over 200,000 points, which was $2,000. I got $2,000 with $1.”
After that win, she felt it was something good, and kept going “off and on.”
But, she said, when she began winning nothing, she, “eased off.”
Both Green and *Cheryl Mann, 70, know that gambling has a lot to do with good old Lady Luck but believe there are human interventions which can increase Lady Luck’s favour. These include touching the screen, talking to the machine, not having anyone stand over you while playing, not having someone look at you while playing, and putting on a particular shoe first.
Mann, too, believes that a lot more women than men visit casinos: “Oh, definitely.”
Asked why, she said, “Men go by their women, so women go by the casino...You also find older women, like retired women, 50-plus.”
Mann said for the women, it was “an exciting, pleasurable pastime.”
“Whether you win or lose, you relax. I would go normally five hours...it could be more, but only because I don’t like to stay out at night, I don’t stay longer,” she said.
“Even on the table where you play cards, you have a lot of women also.” Mann said it was not a meeting place for women to socialise, since “when you’re there you don’t want anyone talking to you.” Rather it was just a space for women “to cool their heads.”
But Paul McLetchie, an addiction counsellor at the New Life Ministries, Mt St Benedict Centre for the past 15 years, said, “Gambling is just one drug people use in order to tolerate the pain and hurt they experience in their life.”
He said, had it not been gambling, it might have been some other form of drug or behaviour. For many with a gambling addiction, the instant gratification often filled a void.
“In terms of gambling, one of the things is instant gratification. They have this magical way of thinking that ‘If I do this, I could get some money fast.’ They have this tendency not to want to work hard but want a quick fix.”
McLetchie said the female gambling addict’s problems sometimes stemmed from a lack of funding but mainly a low concept of self.
“It might stem from unresolved issues they would have had in the past. They might have experienced some traumatic issue in the household, family, school, that went unresolved, so when they experiment with anything that gives them a good feeling, they tend to want to cling to it so that they do not have to work hard,” he added.
Gambling addicts often experienced a rush when they won and so “held on to it.” But the reality was that most times they lost, although: “Every time they go to gamble, they go with great enthusiasm – ‘I am going to win, I am going to get some quick money, to get this quick fix.’
“The reason they keep going back, it is an escape,” he added.
The habits he described were the main characteristics of people addicted to anything.
“When people reach chronic stage, paying bills, time to manage the children, time to manage the household, time to buy things for themselves – that goes to the back burner and everything is about satisfying this instant self-gratification they get when they go to the casino,” he said.
On the relative numbers of women addicted to gambling, McLetchie said he believed women might be ashamed to seek treatment for gambling.
“We have started to see a lot of people coming in for gambling addiction, but we have not seen much women. I think one of the barriers facing women is our patriarchal society and how women are viewed with respect to addiction.”
But for Green, gambling is something she feels she can easily control and she’s confident she does not have a gambling problem.
Asked why she was so sure she’s not addicted, Green said, “When I losing my money, I say, ‘I have to keep my lil change,’ and I would put aside $20 in my pocket to go home...I would play and win $200, and when I get that I feel sweet.
“The more you win, the sweeter, you feel. But if I play twice and lose, I don’t go back for a while.”
*not their real names