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2023 | The Year In Review

This episode takes a look back at some interesting moments from very important conversations we have had over the last 12 months.

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Are You Really Winning – 


Bob Ness: Welcome to Wager Danger. I’m Bob Ness, the producer of the show. We have a 2023 end-of-year wrap-up for your listening pleasure. Shane has had many interesting conversations with a wide variety of guests this year, highlighting the many aspects of problem gambling. As the producer of the show. I get a front-row seat to these conversations and always learn something new with every guest.

This first clip is from January when we went to record remote out at Morton College in Cicero, Illinois, for the Latin Gambling Awareness Conference. Shane had a number of conversations out there, and here are a couple of highlights that stick out. The first is regarding a prevalence study of gambling in Illinois. And Shane got some sobering details from Jim Wilkerson from the State of Illinois about how much people gamble in this state.

Shane Cook: The biggest piece that I usually get asked around this is what does prevalence look like in the state of Illinois? And it’s 3.8% of the state has either a problem gambling disorder or is at risk of having a problem gambling disorder. And so and when I say percentages, a lot of times people will look at that and think, well, that’s not a huge percentage, or what does that really mean?

What does that look like? Ultimately, that means about 1.1 million individuals across the state either have or are at risk of having problem gambling. Right. And obviously, that’s a lot of individuals that are in need of our services and in need of the resources that we’re providing.

Jim Wilkerson: Yeah. And it’s shocking, really, that it was as high. It came back as high as it is, and that’s 3.8% that are that have a problem gambling or a gambling disorder.

Shane Cook: Yessir.

Jim Wilkerson: And then another 7.1, 7.2% that are at high risk of developing a gambling disorder.

Shane Cook: Right.

Jim Wilkerson: And that’s when I tell people that I tell people that that works out to about 1.1 million people. They’re shocked.

Shane Cook: Yeah, it’s shocking to kind of get that number and see that number and really understand what the potential impact is. But that is, of course, why we’re here. And that’s that’s what we’re trying to do is help those individuals. And really, when you look at the services that are provided by organizations such as Gateway across the state, you know, those types of services are really engaging these individuals that have or at risk of developing this disorder, engaging their family members and engaging their community at the same time to really address this from that holistic point of view.

Shane Cook: And that’s what we’re really excited about, is to be able to take that information that came out of the needs assessment and take that and turn that into actual services and activities that can really help this disorder in the individuals across the state.

Bob Ness: Shane also had a very interesting conversation at the conference with Dr. Celeste Napier, who is a keynote speaker at the conference as well. She highlighted the fact that the urge to gamble is so strong that they could get a rat to recreate gambling habits in a lab.

Dr. Celeste Napier: Then the question was, could we show in a rodent model of a gambling like task that as the animal continue to progress in these gambling behaviors, could we show that they perform these tasks in a manner that was very similar to the profile that seen in human gambling behaviors, especially when those who suffer from gambling disorders actually take the same kind of task.

And what we were able to show that the profile was very, very similar. And that was very useful to us because one of the questions that Sandy asked was if we treated the animals with a drug, the generic name of the drugs is from a pixel that we know in human studies actually can promote risk taking behaviors, including promoting gambling.

If this is an organic, brain-derived phenomenon, if you will, then our rat should show that to okay. And indeed, Sandy showed that they did when we treated the rat chronically like it occurs in humans that these rats started to increase their gambling-like behaviors until it became very obvious that they were now making very unhealthy choices and the profile was mirroring those that you see in the human that has disordered gambling as well.

Speaker 3: Okay.

Dr. Celeste Napier: So then the conclusion is, of course, that is biology, right? That these gambling-like behaviors and the propensity to continue to gamble resides in very specific parts of the brain.

Bob Ness: Shane also spoke to John Harris from a five marketing and consulting about the state of Illinois. His new campaign called Are You Really Winning this campaign is a great way to bring awareness to people who gamble that they’re probably not winning as much as they think they are.

Dr. Nathan Smith: We don’t know as an agency how people are really feeling or thinking or what they’re doing or what’s motivating them. All we know is that this has taken hold and taken root somehow, so that so the idea of are you really winning was if you because all of the platforms out there, the gaming betting, gambling platforms are all about you as that winner.

We said well, okay, if you can’t stop betting nonstop, if you are thinking about gambling off the time, if you are spending too much time, say at the slots, and if you find yourself having trouble with your relationships with your job and you find yourself losing more than you win, then are you really winning? So it’s a process and it’s an educational process.

With that effort of are you really winning? The visual, the associated visual is of this a badge or a shield? Are you really winning the words encased in a badge or a shield? So it looks we wanted to also visually be in the game with the gaming betting platform provider. So we needed to make sure we didn’t look like a nonprofit, a low budget operator, and that we looked like if you put it next to all a DraftKings, Caesars FanDuel, that it looked like it was part of the same sort of environment or lexicon and in that way and take it very seriously and do it in a very professional and educational way.

And as you know, as a provider and working with people who are in need of help, it’s also about starting that conversation and destigmatizing this. So it’s okay to it’s okay if you’re if you’re there, then you’re there. And to your point, if you can recognize the signs or we can educate people, friends and family, then they can say, because I don’t think this, you know, gambling disorder, you know, it’s it alcohol issues have been around a long time.

Drug issues have been around a long time. This is really starting to take hold because of the the proliferation of gaming and gambling. And by the way, nobody’s saying that gaming, gambling, betting is wrong or bad, But if it does start to take over your life, if you can’t stop betting non stop, if you’re obsessing, etc., and you’re losing more than you win, then yes.

Are you are you really winning? Right. And that becomes the self-reflective part, the self actual self awareness part that, like you said, is really critical.

Bob Ness: And this brings Jane spoke to Dr. Nathan Smith, the executive director of the Cambridge Research Institute, about gambling’s effect on military veterans. Nate brought up a lot of information about how gaming is available to active duty soldiers and bases, and they are sanctioned by the Department of Defense. But oddly enough, there isn’t any problem gambling assistance available to soldiers if they become addicted.

Bob Ness: It’s a pretty eye-opening conversation backed by data and peer-reviewed research.

Dr. Nathan Smith: The strange thing about once you get into this field and start looking around as men, that it’s everywhere. There are problems everywhere. When you starting to look at what’s happening with the veteran community. So just a couple of a couple of high points. So the on O’Connor bases, which are mostly the overseas bases, you know, the US DOD run 3000 slot machines that bring in about $110 million a year.

Right. So this is happening. So active duty soldiers and their families, contractors and anybody who lives on base has access to it. These are the folks who are who are sitting in $110 million a year. And that probably is low or for being honest, because that number is from 2016 and they haven’t released the numbers again. So when you work at military, you know, sort of outside the military on military projects, you can only work at the data you have, right.

Whatever in you and you can’t really ask for anything and you can’t really get anything. But that’s what we know. We know in 2016 it was around $10 million a year. So people are developing problems on base and then coming home and not having the support they need for treatment. And that’s you know, that’s as you look at the field, it’s just you have to say that’s unacceptable.

We do not accept that what we offer them is just a way to overcome these barriers. And once you do that, you know, the sky’s the limit because, you know, we’re taking people we’ve got in this class, we earned, what, two Navy SEALs. We’ve got a Navy rescue swimmer which is in the sea in other movies where there’s, you know, the guy jumping out of a helicopter, Right.

You know, into the ocean. That’s a Navy rescue somewhere Like these are incredibly talented, smart, hardworking people. They just need a little bit of help with these weird barriers that get in. So that’s the that’s the military research associate program with a MRF. And then finally, as we were going starting these programs, we started getting calls from people who are in active duty or veterans and saying, I need help today and I can’t get into that for whatever reason or I need help today and I don’t have access to the VA for whatever reason.

And so that’s that’s another thing that, you know, we needed to in addition to help five years from now or in ten years, these people need help today. And so we have the military treatment fund. So the military, too, and find us in somebody comes to us and needs help today with their gambling disorder. We can get them treatment paid for by by Cambridge Research Institute.

You know, it’s not forever. It’s not. And it’s, you know, a nice set of at least eight meetings with a high quality person who’s trained, licensed, you know, experience with military folks. And we you know, we pay the bills for that. And that’s what’s been really that’s been really rewarding.

Bob Ness: She and I also had a conversation with Tanya Bibbs Smith, the regional outreach director at Task. Tanya’s grandmother ran a gambling house, which she was growing up. So Tanya didn’t realize that there was anything wrong with gambling because it was so socially accepted and normalized in her community.

Shane Cook: I remember my grandmother run an Aquino house and it’s probably, you know, called a gambling house. But the big is game. You know, that was play was keno. And it’s kind of like, I guess bingo or whatever. So I remember as a little girl, you know, maybe about seven, eight, nine, I remember getting these little small glass bowls for everybody to put their coins in, you know, dimes, nickels, quarters.

And they and I remember, you know, people coming in and paying the house, which was my grandmother. So they would all give her five bucks to participate, you know, in playing these games. But as a young person, it never, never, ever dawned on me, you know, about the gambling that it was gambling, because in my community, I guess especially even back then, it was a way of survival.

You know, it was a way to make extra money to pay your bills. So, you know, my grandmother would have people come in and pay the house. They would be able to come in a play space and keno and be with, you know, all the games that we played, you know, in the community. They will also, you know, be able to shoot dice in her backyard.

She had a nice little area back there. You could go back there and shoot dice on this, me And, you know, those people also had to pay a fee. But she would cook food. So on Fridays it was fish for our Friday and gambling. On Saturday, it was spaghetti and chicken, you know, dinners and gambling. And then all Sunday it was church.

So for Sunday and then it was gambling was like, you know, maybe the Lord on the stairs, I don’t know. But it it was just so interesting. You know, as to when I was a younger person, it never dawned on me, you know, that my grandmother and even my uncle had a gambling issue.

Bob Ness: Dr. Joshua Grubbs enlightened Shane and our audience with data and statistics showing us that knowing more about sports does not necessarily make you better at gambling, and you should probably concentrate more on odds and statistics.

Dr. Joshua Grubbs: Sports bettors. We see this in other action based games as well. So things like poker or even blackjack to an extent as well. There’s this belief of if I can get good enough, I can definitely win enough and then I won’t have a gambling problem anymore. And it’s this idea of, you know, gambling as a career versus gambling as an addiction is based on how much you win versus lose.

And that’s a lovely thing to believe, I suppose, if you’re dealing with it. But the reality is it’s just not true. If you can’t stop, if you’re chasing your losses, if you’re making bad decisions, if you’re finding yourself in debt that you’re not, you’re not going to get better. One, I mean, that’s just not going to happen. But to that predictive control belief that that belief that you can see the future before it’s going to happen is just going to get in the way of you getting the help that you need to get over this problem that you do.

I am not sure that there there’s any evidence to suggest that actually knowing about a sport makes you better at gambling on it. In fact, I would almost bet, pardon the pun. Right. That the people that do the best at sports gambling are not the ones that have the most knowledge of how sports work. It’s the people that have the most knowledge of how odds lines work and statistics work.

And even in that situation, though, there’s a lot of chance that’s involved. And if you talk to professional sports wagers, people who make most of their income off of sports betting, they’re not talking about massive life changing wins or they took the 1 to 1000 odds, right? That’s not what they did. They bet large volumes of money on, you know, basically minuscule odds lines that if you do enough, eventually you win just enough to make a little bit of profit.

Right. And so it’s not the glamorous you know, you had the sleeper pick that beat everyone kind of life that people seem to think it is. It’s more of playing the statistics game in much the same way that we see the stock market working right or things like that. And so it’s not it’s messy. And this notion that just because you’re a skilled athlete or that you have a history with sports or used to coach high school football or whatever, is not necessarily going to make you any better at all at actually placing bets.

Bob Ness: Shane spoke to an Army Veteran podcast host and author named Dave Yeager about his new book called Fall in A Veteran with a Gambling Addiction. Dave describes Shane how he flew to Korea after 911 and discovered slot machines and small casinos on the Army bases. This led him to find comfort and solace while playing the games. It also led him into a deep gambling addiction.

Shane Cook: So tell us about the experience there, Korea and being introduced to the slots.

Dave Yeager: Yeah, So I get on the base, I get to the hotel in Seoul on Yongsan base, a very, very, very nice hotel. I get settled into my room. I find some dinner. I’m tired, but I’m not necessarily sleepy because I’m stressed. I’m walking around the hotel and as I’m walking around, I’m seeing like a little shop here and a restaurant there.

And then I start to hear noises that I’m like, Wait, what is this? So I turn and look in the room and it’s it’s not a full blown casino, but it’s a room full of slot machines, much like a casino, you know, dimly lit with the fun lights in it and all that, all that sort of thing. So I’m like, You know what?

I gambled when I was younger. This looks like it could be fun. It’s a great way to kill time. And still I can actually sleep because I’m not ready to sleep. So I took some money out of the ATM. You know, I went. I sat down and I started to play. And the first thing I noticed as I started to play was that my shoulder started to relax a little bit.

So I’m like, okay, maybe I will be able to sleep now. But then I made and I always call this the biggest mistake a budding compulsive gambler can make. I won, okay? And it was not I didn’t break the bank. I did not strip the Republic of Korea and the U.S. Army of all their money. Right. But I won enough war in that moment.

Just in that moment, all of the stress, all of the tension, all the fear, all the things that I had been experiencing up until that point were gone. They literally in that moment were gone. And it just felt good, you know, that moment felt good. Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that on that day in November in 2001, I became a compulsive gambler.

What I will say, though, is the seed was planted because, you know, I went through the rest of getting processed in and they got me all signed in and they got me signed and I got picked up by my unit, which was all the way at the southern end of Peninsula, about 4 hours away. I was in a Pusan, which is at the southern end of Korea.

So they picked me up, they took me there, they got me settled into my house. I was a noncommissioned officer, so I was in a house with four other noncommissioned officers. I got settled into the base and it was probably a couple of days until I was walking around and I walked into the community club there, happened to walk to the back of the community club.

And lo and behold, here’s another one of these slop rooms, much smaller, you know, much less glitz to it. But it was still one of the slot rooms. I’m like, you know what? I had fun doing this up in in Seoul. Let me go ahead and try it again. Well, over the course of the next several months, that went from maybe going on a Friday to going on a Friday or Saturday to go on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to now wanting to go Monday, Tuesday and within probably 2 to 3 months, I was going 6 to 7 days a week to this room because it was my little escape because I didn’t feel like going back to my room at night because I was there all alone. I really didn’t have anything to do. I was bored and by the way, this seemed like it was fun and felt good.

Bob Ness: Shane also had three conversations about tactics to handle problem gambling with teens. Teens are a very vulnerable group and having access to gambling on your phone 24 seven is a dangerous recipe for young people whose brains aren’t ready to handle all of that weight. Emma and Allison from Chestnut take a very clinical approach directly to the students to let them know what gambling is and how to temper their emotions.

Speaker 5: Well, first of all, I think that all youth are at risk because of their brain development and their brains not being fully developed. They’re just more at risk for problem behaviors. They’re more at risk at taking risks because that part of their brain, their prefrontal cortex, doesn’t quite completely develop. So their decision making is not lacking. They’re more impulsive.

And since we’re not just talking about gambling, as we go into the curriculum a little bit more, it’s about life skills. And everyone can use these kind of life skills that will help them not only to make good decisions regarding gambling, but also any other risky behaviors that they might be challenged with. So, yeah, so we you know what, primary prevention we do the analogy of the river where we have people down river that can fish people out of the river of the river being problem gambling.

But what we do in primary prevention is put those guardrails in place before they get into the river and everyone, every student can benefit from that. And the theme of lesson two is to help them become more thoughtful decision-makers. And we’re very careful not to say good or bad decisions. It’s always careful, thoughtful, low risk decisions, maybe less impulsive.

That’s something we try to talk about as well, but we’re trying to help them become more thoughtful decision-makers from start to finish. So in this lesson, we talk about brain development throughout the teen years and those things that we talked about. Now, prefrontal cortex is still cooking. So is the logic isn’t always 100% there to hold that knowledge of my brain is absolutely developed.

So that means I’m more at risk. But we really try to talk about it a lot and explain it in different ways. How their brain being underdeveloped can affect the way that they react to things, can affect the ways that they make decisions more impulsively, and then we give them tools, first kind of tools that are more grounding, like, okay, let’s take some deep breaths, let’s box free, let’s do something grounding to get my emotions and my brain in the same place and try to make a really thoughtful decision here.

Bob Ness: Chris Ward From the way back in, talk with Shane about the stacked deck, which is an evidence based curriculum for students and the danger of gambling games and apps.

Shane Cook: It really is true that any sort of anxiety, isolation and social issues, issues within the family only got worse during the pandemic. So if you don’t really understand what gaming is, what gambling is, and how susceptible you are and how much you really don’t know about it, it goes from a light escape mechanism to kind of alleviate that anxiety or stress caused by all of those issues in a way to unhealthy escapism where someone could actually be developing a problem with gambling, even though they’re only 15.

I know that imagine a slot machine and the lights and a casino and everything and the sounds and all the fun right here in your hand in a phone. Even if it’s not a casino type game, you actually don’t have like, you know, a seven, seven, seven or Jerry, Jerry Cherry But you’re getting all of that stimulation for your brain.

I could easily see how that would tie to gambling because your brain doesn’t really know what’s going on on the outside and it all lights up the same areas and gives you that dopamine rush. And I did better than I did yesterday. I got a higher score than my friend. I’m using it to not feel so bad about myself.

You start getting all of these rushes with it.

Bob Ness: Last, Shane had another conversation with Elizabeth Thielen from Makassar, who had a very interesting story about a youth who is addicted to gambling, and she wanted to express herself and her addiction to gambling by writing a song. It’s extremely moving.

Speaker 3: I believe he also had another individual who also took this to another level in terms of expressing what they’ve learned through this program. Do you want to talk about that one?

Elizabeth Thielen: Yeah, I would. I love to talk about this one. So like I said, we share the information, we share the research, and then we say, what would you like to do with this? And this young woman in our program said, I would like to write a song. And I, I was like, okay, that’s interesting. You do it, you though.

And so we were actually at an event. All the young people were walking in a parade and she said, I wrote my song, Do you want to hear it? And she just belted it out, you know, a cappella. And it was literally made you know, it gave me goosebumps. And so as a part of this second year project, we were able to get her to a recording studio in Chicago, where she was able to record her song that she wrote and sang professionally.

And it’s called Make Things Right. In this, you have 45 seconds. I like to just play a clip for you.

That you it’s hard for me to say that I think.

Speaker 5
I need some help for the day. This kind of struggle to admit when I’m a fan of my songs, family to the Passion and trust me, all of that is overwhelming. And so I.

Shane Cook: Said, How.

Speaker 5
Do I need to find.

Shane Cook: It? What I love is making.

My money looking to take that if I do find if I give everyone.

Speaker 5
Isn’t that enough?

Speaker 3: That is fantastic.

Bob Ness: We’ve had a great year here, Wade, your danger and we want to thank you for listening. We’re looking forward to educating and inspiring everyone more in 2024. We love hearing from you, so please take a moment to like, share and comment on our podcast. You can reach out to us directly by email at Wade Your Danger at Gateway Foundation dot org.

Look for us on Facebook and Twitter at Recovery Gateway and LinkedIn at Gateway Dash Foundation or through our website, A Gateway Foundation dot org Wager danger is supported through funding in whole or in part through a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Division of Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery. And remember, recovery is a lifelong process.

If you or a family member are struggling with a gambling problem, call Gateway at 8449753663 and speak with one of our counselors for a confidential assessment.

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