Casino Gambling

Powerball mania a temptation compulsive gamblers find hard to ignore

SETH WENIG/ASSOCIATED PRESSA sign advertises the Powerball lottery in New York on Monday. The jackpot is so big that billboards around the country have to advertise the prize as $999 million because they're not built to show billions. A jackpot that high can be a problem for compulsive gamblers, experts say.
SETH WENIG/ASSOCIATED PRESSA sign advertises the Powerball lottery in New York on Monday. The jackpot is so big that billboards around the country have to advertise the prize as $999 million because they're not built to show billions. A jackpot that high can be a problem for compulsive gamblers, experts say. AP

Mississippi is one of six states that doesn't allow Powerball, but experts say a jackpot soaring over $1 billion is a temptation for problem and compulsive gamblers to cross the state line and buy tickets.

When he was gambling, Arnie Wexler said he spent $300 to $400 a week on lottery tickets. He now is a Certified Compulsive Gambling Counselor, and on Sunday sat in on a 12-step recovery program in Florida. Because of the Powerball jack

pot, he said, two people at the meeting relapsed on lottery last week.

"Everybody's talking about the lottery," he said. "If you're a compulsive gambler there's no way you can block this out, It's right in your face."

He placed his last bet in 1968 and said, "I know I can't buy a lottery ticket."

If he wins even $1 on the lottery, Wexler said, he'll be thinking, "Wow, it's my lucky day.

"I'll be in a casino in 10 minutes," he said.

The average person who wins $100 will go out and spend it on a purse or dinner, he said. Compulsive gamblers will think they can turn it into $1 million.

"Normal people can walk away. Compulsive gamblers can't," he said.

"It's not about money. It's about the action and feeling they get," said Betty Greer, executive director of the Mississippi Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling. She doesn't know of any calls coming in to the state helpline specifically about lottery issues, but doesn't doubt people are driving to states that offer Powerball tickets.

Wexler said when a jackpot hits a record, "People spend more then they ever intended -- or wanted to."

It could become an even bigger problem than spending the rent money on Powerball.

"Some people are going to start their gambling addiction buying lottery tickets," he said.

Calls to his hotline come in from all over the country, and Wexler said the stories can be devastating: A physician losing his practice because of gambling addiction or a person on the self-exclusion list sneaking into a casino to continue gambling.

A person on the exclusion list can't even claim a jackpot, he said. "They know they can't win."

The Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling just bought 400 copies of his new book, "All Bets Are Off," to distribute to schools and colleges in Mississippi. For those in a recovery program, Wexler urges them to stick with their plan.

Those who need someone to talk to can call the state helpline at (888) 777-9696 or visit msgambler.org or call Wexler's hotline at (888) LAST BET.

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