Powerball Fever & Gamblers

When the Powerball rose to $1.4 billion recently, a lot of people wanted to play. And a lot of people bought a ticket or two or three. Maybe you were one of them and got caught up in Powerball fever.

I was interviewed by 12 News in Phoenix about the dangers of the Powerball lottery for people with a gambling addiction. You can watch the interview and read additional comments on this 12News story about the Powerball

Gambling addiction help

If the Powerball lottery has triggered your gambling addiction, it might be time to consider entering gambling treatment. As stated in the article, the state offers a 24-hour hotline for problem gamblers. Call 1-800-NEXT-STEP.

A Female Gambler’s Story

I just finished reading Marilyn Lancelot’s Gripped by Gambling, one of the first books written by a female gambler. This was my third reading, and the book was just as riveting as it was the first time. Marilyn is an incredible storyteller who chronicles her descent into addiction and the price she paid while held in its grip. She shares the struggles of a female gambler participating in recovery in a male-dominated “world” and reveals a portrait of a middle class grandmotherly type who could have been your next-door neighbor—except this neighbor has a secret: She is a gambler.

At the time the secret came to light, Marilyn had been involved in gambling almost from the time she arrived in Arizona 15 years earlier. What began as innocent fun in Laughlin became an obsession.

A Gambler or a Grandmother?

The embodiment of everyone’s grandmother, Marilyn didn’t fit the mold of the public’s perception of a cigar-smoking, overbearing, smooth-talking blowhard. Her gambling led to incarceration, and following this life-changing event, Marilyn relocated to the Phoenix area from Yuma. In search of a new beginning and help for her disease, she made the decision to attend Gamblers Anonymous where she had difficulty being accepted in a male-dominated recovery program. She persevered and eventually found acceptance within the group.

Recognizing that female gamblers presented some different issues as well as those that are unique to the female experience, Marilyn started one of the first women’s recovery groups in the United States. This first group was met with a lot of male opposition, but eventually the men were able to embrace the concept of “women preferred” groups.

A highly recommended book for female gamblers

A highly recommended book for female gamblers

Recently I had an opportunity to talk with Marilyn about her experiences, and I asked her the following questions:

In your opinion has the public perception of gamblers changed for the better or has this perception remained the same?

Marilyn thinks that there’s now a little bit more understanding from the public, but she agreed that we have a long way to go to promote the concept of gambling as a disease.

You wrote this book almost 7 years ago. What changes, if any, have you witnessed within the recovery community?

Marilyn noted these changes: younger people are gambling, there’s more Internet gambling, the sheer number of meetings has greatly expanded throughout the state, and more people are accessing treatment. Also, Marilyn indicated that there are now more women’s groups and more understanding by male members as to why women’s preferred groups are needed.

Gambling Resources from Marilyn Lancelot

Gripped by Gambling is the first of three books that Marilyn authored. Her latest book, Detour: Avoiding Temptations That Lead to Addiction, is now available on Amazon. Her other book is called Switching Addictions…Why Didn’t Someone Tell Me? All three books are available in paperback and Kindle format. All three books can be found on Amazon on Marilyn Lancelot’s Amazon author page.

Her proudest accomplishment is the newsletter “Women Helping Women.” She said that whenever she considers shutting down the newsletter, she receives a flurry of email from women all over the world. With its original articles written by Marilyn, addictions specialists, and other women in recovery, Marilyn’s newsletter is an especially vital link for women who may not have access to meetings or live in areas where meetings are scarce. In addition, “Women Helping Women” creates community for women all over the world.

Skating on the Edge

I have become concerned about the number of what I perceive are “near misses” reported by clients in recovery from gambling addiction. A near miss, in my opinion, is often a gray area that a client somehow does not see as problematic. A near miss may be the gateway to other compromises or a direct path to relapse. The subtle little things may ultimately prove to be problematic, and it’s not always the big issues that can be a deal breaker for your sustained recovery.

What follows are some things to consider so that you can avoid skating too close to gambling addiction’s blurry edges and falling through the ice.

Raffles: Good Cause or a Bad Idea?

An example of a gray area might be the “innocent” raffle ticket that you consider purchasing or selling for a good cause. Some of you are double or even triple winners. In recovery terms, a “winner” is an individual who belongs to a 12 step group. You might be approached by someone in your other 12 Step programs who ask you to buy or sell a 50-50 raffle ticket. In a 50-50 raffle half of the proceeds go to purchase literature for newcomers’ packets and the winner gets the other half. Saying no to a fellow recovery friend may be difficult, but remember, there are other ways to support the group such as making coffee, acting as a room greeter, setting up and clearing up after the meeting.

A local healthcare organization holds a fundraising raffle with opportunities to win many choice prizes. There are many fine organizations doing amazing work in our communities, and fundraising is an integral part of those groups. However, for those whose primary focus is playing to win rather than supporting the cause, this type of a fundraiser can be problematic and rekindle old fires.

Gambling Temptation via the Mailman

Sometimes the mail brings temptation in the form of offers from an entity such as the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes guaranteeing that you have one of the winning numbers. You quickly forget that at least half your neighbors have received the same special envelopes and have also been assured that they are the holders of the lucky numbers. According to the official rules, the estimated odds of winning the $1 million a year forever are one in 1.3 billion. How lucky can you get?

Gaming via Smart Phones and Computers

One of the biggest potential time bombs are casino-like games on personal computers and cell phones, especially those that offer “free play.” Free play may initially seem innocent enough. After all, there’s nothing out of pocket. It is possible to play for a while for free, but then the old bait-and-switch occurs, and the next thing you know, you must pay for the “extras” that are part of the game. Sometimes you’re hooked into playing these free games through invitations by friends on social media, or when pop-up advertising of these games seem like no big deal at first. These “innocent” and “free” games may put you on thin ice so that eventually you go for the real thing.

To Bet or Not to Bet

Avid sports fans in recovery may struggle with not participating in office pools such as Fantasy Football or Sweet 16, whether or not money is involved. By the way, offering advice to those who are playing is a vicarious thrill you can’t afford. During Kentucky Derby parties, the focus is on the buffet and elaborate hats, but the bottom line is that the betting is for real. Placing a bet during a simple game of golf, no matter how small the amount, is another gray area that should be recognized. The focus may be diverted to the win and not to the enjoyment of the game itself. Concentrate instead of improving that swing.

The Popularity of Casino Nights

Another potential near miss is when your work holds a holiday party that has a casino night theme, and you are expected to attend. Even though money won’t be exchanged at the event, you are entered into a drawing for prizes. What do you do? Hopefully you shared your recovery with your spouse or significant other, and there is a level of accountability and protection. Stating empathetically that you don’t gamble and are waiting for the dancing is always a good strategy, and when the music starts get out there and show that you mean business.

Another difficult choice can arise when your social service organization sponsors a casino night. Not only are you expected to attend but you might also be easily swayed by the good cause that the event is supporting. If the cause means that much to you, in lieu of attending, I’m sure the organization would appreciate a donation in any amount.

Those Enticing Scratchers

The gaming industry makes the most of their advertising dollars through digital and print media. It is not uncommon to find scratcher ads stuck on the front page of the Sunday newspaper. These scratchers can only be validated at the gaming venue. For those who indulged in scratchers prior to recovery, this type of advertising can be a potent trigger.

Skating Through Recovery, Free from Gambling Addiction

Ultimately, don’t let the gray areas ruin your recovery and skate you back into the black days of addiction. What’s the solution? Avoid gray areas by remaining vigilant. When in doubt, check it out with your therapist or with your recovery group, your sponsor, and peers who have a solid recovery.

Review of Bill Lee’s Born to Lose

I just finished rereading Born to Lose: Memoirs of a Compulsive Gambler by Bill Lee. I was so compelled by his story that I was unable to put the book down after planning to read just a few pages. The next thing I knew it was 2:00 a.m.  Reading the book a second time was just as riveting. Bill Lee’s childhood—even before he was born—was filled with many jaw-dropping moments. He describes his descent into hell in a graphic and poignant way.

The book is the story of addiction told from the perspective of a male action gambler. Bill Lee was born in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where he was exposed at an early age to the gambling culture. The author speaks of early indoctrination and acceptance of gambling within his community.

“My history of gambling really began before I was born,” Lee says in the book. He was born into a culture in which it was not unheard of to lose fortunes and even one’s children to gambling. He talks about a generational influence as he was a third generation gambler. He believes that he is one of those unfortunate individuals who is predisposed to gambling and that all it took was exposure, and he was off and running.

Although he spent time in Vegas, the action primarily takes place in his hometown, but his story could have happened anywhere.  Gambling is about time, money and most importantly, availability.

He eventually finds recovery through the Twelve Step program and shares his challenges in accepting his disease and the structure of the Twelve Steps. At the time of the book’s writing, Lee had a 40-year history of gambling followed by 15 years of involvement with GA.

There is a ray of sunshine in reading the book as Lee shares his experience, strength and hope. He seems to have held off his demons one day at a time and credits GA. Before he surrendered to GA, he relapsed and questioned GA traditions and procedures, but in the end he came to praise the gift that he had been given.

Lee is a writer by profession and has been featured on several television shows. His memoir was published in 2005 by Hazelden Publishing, which “provides products and services to help people recognize, understand, and overcome addiction.”

Born to Lose is available in paperback and a Kindle version by following this link to Amazon.

Book Cover: Born to Lose by Bill Lee

Remembering Joanna Franklin

Last week I had my bi-monthly breakfast with two of my colleagues who are also working with gamblers. The main topic of conversation was the sudden passing of our beloved colleague, mentor and friend, Joanna Franklin, on Saturday, October 5. We each talked about how we met Joanna and the impact she had on our lives.

I first met Joanna in the spring of 1997. She had come to Michigan to train those of us who were interested in working with problem gamblers. Our training was held in an office building near the soon-to-be Greektown Casino in Detroit’s Trapper’s Alley and sponsored by the now-defunct Michigan Council on Problem Gambling. My initial plan was to attend to see if there was something to benefit the program I was working in at a local hospital. At the time, I loved my work in chemical dependency. I loved my clients and colleagues.  However, that day in 1997 would mark a new beginning for me.

After Joanna was introduced by the executive director of the council, she stepped forward, her gaze sweeping the room, and said that gambling was “in one word, magic.” Gambling for the gambler, she said, was “magic” because it solved so many things, at least prior to the addiction manifesting itself. She talked about the impact of gambling, time that can never be recaptured, the financial and emotional toll on the individual and families. By the end of the morning session, I knew that somehow my career path would shift in a significant way. This, I knew, was to be the icing on the cake.

Joanna continued to work with us throughout 1997, providing education, inspiration and very practical support. She brought in other experts to expand our knowledge base, and she was always available to answer questions and validate the baby steps that we took on our road to becoming nationally certified gambling counselors.

It was Joanna who encouraged me to start a women’s group as part of my private practice. Joanna later told me that mine was one of the first, if not the first, group for women gamblers in the United States. She encouraged me to explore how women would better benefit from help within the treatment delivery system. I was inspired to look for any and all references and resources to be a more effective counselor. The early literature tended to focus on the issues of a predominantly male gambling population. Joanna encouraged me to talk to others about  working with women gamblers and explore techniques that would benefit their unique needs.

After my move to Arizona in 2003, our relationship shifted from a less direct mentorship as I began to gain more confidence. We always managed to connect each year at the National Conference on Problem Gambling, and she was always supportive and validated my growth, commitment and special interest in women gamblers. In Seattle this past July after exchanging our usual hugs she asked about my practice and my future plans. As always, I checked in to see what was happening with her in Maryland, and she talked about her daughter Heather, whom I had met at several conferences, a new grandchild, and of course, her husband Carl.  When we parted I said, “See you next year in Orlando.”

According to Keith Whyte, NCPG president, “Joanna trained thousands and thousands of counselors and helped set high standards for the profession through her work on certification.” She designed and delivered clinical training programs in 45 states, 10 Canadian provinces, among 31 tribes and in 9 other countries.

I know the world is a better place for Joanna Franklin having been here, in particular for those individuals and families who have been impacted by problem gambling, and for all who met her, her genuine caring and love for people. She was one of the most significant influences on the work I do today.

Thank you, Joanna. What a legacy to leave—a job well done.

Typical Clients in Gambling Treatment

There’s no typical client that I see in gambling treatment. They’re from all walks of life and socioeconomic status.  Men and women. Young and old.

My oldest client was in their early 80s. The average age of the clients I work with is late 40s.  Having worked in a university town, I have had students in their late teens and early 20s engage in treatment.

When I first started, I saw more men. Over the years, the number of women who present for treatment has grown and now equals the male gamblers I see in treatment.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live. Addiction does not discriminate and is an equal opportunity destroyer.

Gambling Treatment in Mesa-Chandler

When you’re ready for help to stop gambling, gambling treatment is a phone call away.  I am one of five providers for the State of Arizona’s Office of Problem Gambling Treatment Assistance Program (TAP) in Mesa. My Mesa-Chandler office, south of the 60 and a short distance from the 101, is easily accessible to all areas of the East Valley. I am one of the few therapists in the Southeast Valley participating in the TAP Program for Problem Gambling.

Where the need for gambling treatment starts

Gambling addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer

My mission is to provide the highest quality gambling treatment to problem gamblers and those affected by someone’s gambling. Please call me today so that together we can cross the bridge from gambling addiction to recovery.


Compulsive Gambling Insights


I have a unique perspective on the various issues that accompany compulsive gambling after 16 years of working with problem gamblers and their families.

With the explosion of casinos, gambling is the new kid on the block. So is gambling addiction. Currently there’s limited public awareness of compulsive gambling and gambling addiction. In certain areas of the country there’s limited access to gambling treatment and not enough advocates for prevention and treatment.

On the plus side, I have seen improvement in the quality and amount of available services for those who have gambling problems. Research into the cause of gambling addiction is in the early stages.

Today, most states have funds available for problem gambling hotlines, treatment and prevention. Initial awareness of problem gambling and the need for treatment was brought to the forefront by grassroot organizations most often created by those who were in recovery from gambling addiction.

From Addictions Specialist to Gambling Treatment Specialist

My own journey as a gambling treatment specialist began in 1996 after years of working with chemical dependency, adult children of alcoholics and recovering adolescents. That year, a proposition had been passed that mandated treatment in conjunction with the establishment of three land-based casinos within the city of Detroit. The State of Michigan advertised for therapists interested in working with gamblers.

After a year of training and supervision, in 1998 I received my certification as a Nationally Certified Gambling Counselor I (NCGCI) and was one of the first therapists on the state panel. Until my relocation to Arizona in 2003, I treated gamblers in the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital System and in my private practice in Ann Arbor. After I relocated to Arizona in 2003, I continued my work with compulsive gamblers and their families. I received my certification as a Nationally Certified Gambling Counselor II (NCGCII).

I learned a lot in those early years, and I am so grateful to my clients who provided insights into compulsive gambling that one could not get from a textbook or from the excellent workshops that I attended during and after my training. I am thankful for the support of my personal mentor, Dr. Lori Rugle, and to Joanna Franklin, NCGC-II, BACC and Deborah Haskins, NCGC-II, BACC who are all pioneers in the field of gambling addiction. They encouraged me to stretch and grow.

Most of all, I owe a debt of gratitude to my clients who have allowed me into their lives, one day at a time.