A look at compulsive gambling issues in Montana

Posted at 4:00 PM, Jun 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-04 18:10:39-04

BILLINGS – Chasing after a rush is something most addicts are familiar with when it comes to substance abuse problems.

But there’s another type of addiction that’s devastating the lives of Montana families that’s not that well known.

With close to 100 casinos the Billings area and sports betting soon making its way into the fold, gambling addiction is an underlying issue that’s affecting people in Yellowstone County.

“Just look at the casinos. You never see them empty, there’s always cars in the parking lot. Just in terms of our patients, I have four active gamblers on my caseload right now,” said Rimrock Foundation Director of Special Services Malcolm Horn.

“And they range from the person who, yeah they gambled more then they should, sometimes they’re a little short on rent. Versus I also got some who lose everything, I’ve had one’s who lose their entire retirement, they have drained their kid’s college fund,” he added.

From machines, live card games, online betting, to state lotteries; gambling stimulates an addict’s brain the same as someone with a substance abuse problem.

“For those people who do have a problem, the gambling lights their brain up the way alcohol, or methamphetamine or whatever might someone else’s brain up,” Horn explained.

“There’s something about the lights, the bells, the sounds; they feel alive, they feel engaged, they feel excited.”

“You can tell when a person is under the influence of drugs and alcohol. You cannot tell if someone is a compulsive gambler. We’re sneaky, we don’t want you to know,” Doe stated.

Like other addictions, this problem affects a person in various ways ranging from financial issues to damaging personal and professional relationships.

“It’s devastating. You turn into a monster, someone you would never think you could become. You lie, you steal, you hurt people, a lot of people,” one gambler — Jane Doe — told MTN News.

For people suffering this addiction, resources for treatment are limited as this issue is not considered as detrimental as other types of addiction.

“So your resources are much more limited. You have a smaller pool of counselors, you don’t have that many levels of care you can get for treatment, and there’s not that many of the 12-step support groups,” Horn said.

“So those are your basic resources here in Montana. Certainly out of states there are some large treatment facilities that only treat gambling on an in-patient basis and those are also options, if your insurance pays for it,” he added.

Even though things may look bleak for the addict going through this problem, there is hope.

“Come out and tell your spouse, your friends, your family — ‘Hey I have a problem and I need help’,” Doe stated. “And they will help you. I would find a counselor, I would find a program that you feel comfortable with. Just take it day by day, you can do it.

If you or anyone you know thinks they may have a problem with gambling, you can call the Montana Council on Problem Gambling’s 24-hour hotline at 888-900-9979.

Reporting by Marcus Boyer for MTN News