Isle workers study addiction

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 11, 2001

NATCHEZ – More than money is at risk when gambling gets out of control. Employees of Isle of Capri Casino on Monday listened to chilling stories of wrecked relationships, suicides, prostitution and murder perpetrated by gamblers whose addictions ruled their lives.

Arnie and Sheila Wexler, consultants to the gaming industry whose personal experiences attest to their expertise, told casino workers to be vigilant and to be careful when dealing with patrons whose actions become suspect.

&uot;Compulsive gambling is not anyone’s fault,&uot; Sheila Wexler told the group, which included in two separate sessions all employees. &uot;But as an employee you have the ability to see things and report them. We don’t expect you to be counselors but you might be more aware to recognize the problem.&uot;

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Wendy Grandin, Isle of Capri Casino manager, said the company has strict standards to assist the compulsive gambler.

&uot;If a customer comes forward and asks for help in limiting his check-cashing or eliminating him from our mailing lists, we do that,&uot; Grandin said. &uot;And we do not ever lift that restriction.&uot;

Theresa Maxwell, a cashier at the casino who attended the morning session of the seminar, said she has observed people whose actions are suspect. &uot;Just last night, a guy told me not to cash any more checks if he came back to me; but he did come back. I questioned him. But they sometimes get mad with you if you say anything,&uot; she said.

The seminar, held at the Isle of Capri Hotel, provided casino employees with profiles of many gamblers whose extreme behavior led to disasters.

— A young woman in Louisiana killed her parents to get the $100,000 insurance policy because she had no more money to gamble. She left two small children behind when she went to prison.

— A man sold his kidney in Europe for $25,000 to raise money for his gambling habit.

— Another man kidnapped a child and asked for ransom – money he desperately sought to satisfy his gambling yen.

— A woman admitted she turned to prostitution to raise money for gambling.

Most who frequent casinos are not compulsive gamblers, Arnie Wexler said. &uot;We don’t know what the percentage is. Some say it’s 1 percent and other studies put it at 7.4 percent. But even if it’s only 1 percent, that’s more than we want.&uot;

More than 5 million people in America are compulsive gamblers, he said. &uot;And another 15 million are at risk.&uot;

Felicia Garfield, an operations manager at Isle of Capri, said after the meeting that the information was important for all the employees to hear. &uot;I think we all should be aware of this. It sure lets me know that I don’t want to be a compulsive gambler,&uot; she said.

The compulsive gambler has a sickness similar to alcoholism, Arnie Wexler said. Treatment is imperative if that kind of gambler is to lead a normal life.

&uot;In 1955 the American Medical Association said alcoholism is a disease. People began to get help. Not until 1980 did the American Psychiatric Association say pathological gambling is an official diagnosis.&uot;

Wexler knows first-hand about the addiction. He has been there. He worked for a Fortune 500 company and no one knew he had a problem. He was stealing from the company, borrowing from friends and even from people he did not consider friends. He was spending more time on gambling than with his family. &uot;The gambling was affecting everything, especially the marriage.&uot;

Sheila Wexler told of her growing frustration, her paranoia and fears brought on by the gambling. &uot;I thought he just didn’t love me enough,&uot; she said. &uot;And there would be telephone calls about money. I was afraid to answer the phone or to go outside the house.&uot;

She had barred her mother from the house, embarrassed that the pantry and refrigerator were empty. The two young children went without things they needed.

Once Wexler faced his problem and received help from a 12-step program, he never returned to betting. He began to realize the sickness for what it was. And he began to research the illness and its effects on people.

Today, more women are becoming addicted to gambling, he said. The compulsion affects young people and elderly people. He pointedly told casino workers in the audience that they are more at risk than the average person. &uot;Casino workers have a two to three times greater chance of becoming compulsive gamblers,&uot; he said. &uot;If you see it, get the employee help.&uot;

Sheila Wexler said compulsive gamblers become completely obsessed with gambling. &uot;They eat, drink and sleep it. They eliminate people and hobbies from their lives. They are only interested in getting money for gambling and increase the amount of time they spend on gambling.&uot;

They may really try to overcome the addiction. &uot;They try to stop and make sincere promises to stop, but they go back to it,&uot; she said.

The compulsive gambler borrows money, gets money through credit cards, out of a piggy bank or even out of a mother’s pocketbook, she said. &uot;And much more than money is at risk. The person thrusts aside career and educational opportunities and often thinks of suicide.&uot;

Grandin, casino manager, said the Isle of Capri works diligently to be responsible with customers and employees. &uot;We are in the entertainment business, and the product we sell is fun,&uot; she said. &uot;The compulsive behavior is not what we want for the person’s family, their community or for them.&uot;

The Wexlers have a toll-free help line at 1-888-LAST BET. Their Web site is, where they invite anyone interested or in need of help to contact them.

Arnie Wexler made his last bet in 1968, and the couple has been involved in raising public awareness about compulsive gambling for 30 years.