By Erin Delmore
“If you develop a problem with substance abuse, or with alcohol or some of the other addictions that are out there people around you can see that. I can have this conversation with you here today and hopefully sound articulate and intelligent, but yet you would have no idea that I might potentially be out there gambling and owe $50,000 on the street,” said Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey Prevention Specialist Frank Lazzaro.
Compulsive gambling affects 350,000 people in New Jersey, and likely more, since that only accounts for people who disclose. March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, used to bring light to the faces of this “invisible addiction”.
“People that that it was maybe a middle class, white male who is suffering with this issue, but it’s not like that anymore. Especially with seniors. Seniors are losing their mortgages. They’re losing their life savings from simple going down to the casino with a group of people because you know as we age we lose our family. We lose our friends so we get with this group of people,” said Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey Executive Director Neva Pryor.
There’s no test or telltale sign of compulsive gambling, but the health risks are real including high blood pressure, rapid heart beat and depression. The suicide rate among gambling addicts is devastatingly high — 20 percent.
“Going to the doctor? That was the furthest thing from my mind. I’m not going to take care of myself. All I was concerned about was the next bet because it’s going to change my life,” Lazzaro said.
Lazzaro has been in recovery for 17 years. He takes his message across the state to veterans’ centers, prisons and schools.
“You know, a lot of people look at it as a social event, and it is a social event. It’s a recrecrational event, but for 95 percent of the population. But there’s that percentage of the population, and I’m included in it, that develops a problem,” he said.
Easier now than ever with access to online gaming portals, daily fantasy sports, even the lotto with jackpots not in the millions, in the billions.
“So now I can sit in the comfort of my home with my device, whether it’s my smartphone, iPhone, tablet, laptop and play the same exact games that you’d be able to play in the casino. Other states that have legalized it also,” Lazzaro said.
Gov. Chris Christie issued a proclamation declaring March Problem Gambling Awareness Month. For the team at the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, prevention is front of mind, all year long.