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Gambling addiction on rise among women

Andrew Pridgen
Cathleen Allison / Nevada Appeal / Traditionally known as a man's pastime, gambling is becoming more popular with women, leading to an increasing number of Northern Nevada females with gambling addictions.
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In the last two years, Northern Nevada has seen the largest spike ever of women seeking help for gambling addiction.

Two-thirds of those who currently attend meetings at the Northern Nevada chapters of Gamblers Anonymous in Reno and Carson City are women.

The latest marketing techniques in gaming all reflect the needs and wants of one demographic — women.

“Gambling used to be the men enter smoke-filled rooms and sit around a card table and lose their money. The women were there to watch and look pretty,” said Denise F. Quirk, clinical director and CEO of the Reno Problem Gambling Center. “Now, look who they’re catering to.”

Gambling historians concur.

“I think women have always been important to gambling in Nevada,” said David G. Schwartz, a gambling historian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Women were dealers back to the 1930s, and it evolved from there. Let me put it this way, you would not have had Las Vegas become a successful tourism destination if there was not an appeal to women.”

The trend to lure women specifically to gamble is a recent one however, Schwartz said. Through the mid-1990s, gambling was a man’s sport.

Vegas was built as a retreat for the man, the bachelor party, the soldier on leave, the corporate executive ready to blow his bonus.

Then, something happened.

The women came, too. And they wanted in.

Casinos capitalized. Spas instead of sports bars. Corridors of high-end shopping instead of rows of craps tables. Salons instead of steak houses.

“Oh, it’s very true,” said Schwartz. “I can’t quantify for you — you’d have to look for the numbers somewhere else — but I’m sure it will be interesting to see how history will reflect women’s influence on the industry today.”

Google the words “women” and “gambling” and instantly pops up http://www.womenwhogamble.com.

It’s not a help site for those with a gambling problem. It’s a self-proclaimed “independent” site espousing the “great escape of gambling for women.”

“Every woman deserves the chance to get away from it all, and what better way to do it than take a couple days off with girlfriends,” the site says. “Women-only vacations are becoming more popular, and casinos … are offering incentives for women vacationing without male companions or families.”

The site goes on to espouse the “advantages” casinos offer when it comes to the “height of luxury for women.”

For women who love the outdoors: “The Sycuan Resort and Casino in San Diego offers a special women-only casino and golf package.”

For the shopper: “What makes a girls’ trip to the casinos more fun is the wide variety of things for them to do. Casino vacations can be planned around shopping trips.”

For those who want to be entertained: “Some women schedule a casino vacation around a performance of a favorite music artist making a one-time appearance or decide to get tickets to a long running popular show.”

For those short on funds and time: “For women who live in the Northeastern part of the United States, bus trips to Atlantic City’s casinos are an excellent way for women to take some time to get away and have fun with the girls without worrying about being away overnight.”

And, of course, for girls just wanting to have fun: “Frankly, sometimes gambling with girlfriends is more fun than gambling with husbands or boyfriends. Women are less likely to take gambling seriously than men and consequently can enjoy themselves more.”

It’s the last sentiment that scares experts the most.

“I can’t tell you how dangerous this mentality is,” said Quirk. “Yes, men and women gamble for different reasons, but the reasons are equally dangerous. Both can destroy families, marriages and lives.”

Paula Chung, a reformed gambler and the first certified gambling counselor intern in Nevada said women can often hide gambling addiction more easily than men.

“It’s usually late-onset,” she said. “Maybe they were raised in a family where the father was a gambler. But it can be tied to empty-nest syndrome. Maybe they’re angry, tired, stressed — they get caught up in the gambling. You go into the casino and everyone knows your name. Or, you can hide in the corner and be anonymous — nobody will see you. You can play the machine and escape.

“Women are terribly codependent. We try to fix everything instead of trying to fix ourselves. When the kids are in school, we’re in the casino. Then we rush home and pretend everything’s OK and go on with the task of helping everyone else.”

How good are women at hiding?

One recent local example comes to mind for counselor Chung.

“I just shared a story with my group of the woman in Minden who embezzled $44,000 from the DMV; that’s what we do,” she said. “It’s the average Joe. The person at the PTA meeting who you’d never expect in a million years. Often the husbands don’t even know until the police show up.”

Local casino marketers were hesitant to comment on whether they market directly to women, using incentives like free dinners or trips to the salon with points accumulated on a rewards card to entice the female gambler.

One, speaking on a condition of anonymity, simply said, “Our rewards system is for everyone.”

“I do believe they’re catering to women,” Chung said. “Have you gone to a casino and the woman has the card hooked to the elastic thingy? I call that the slot machine IV. And that’s the really big thing; they think, ‘I’ve got a free dinner for my family.’ Well, honey, it ain’t free.”

Problem-gambling counselors say that women, though hiding their problem better, often seek help faster than men — and that gives them hope.

“Women have a greater propensity to ask for voluntary treatment, which may be why we’ve seen their numbers surge,” Quirk said. “The majority of women I see from Carson and Reno are middle to upper-middle class. The ones who are homeless are the ones who were there once and gambling took them down.

“Which shows we can’t get the help out there fast enough.”

— Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com or (775) 881-1219.


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