“If I gamble I might fumble”

You’ve seen in previous posts that we have a remarkable group of young people using their creative talents to raise awareness of teen gambling problems. They are also raising awareness of problem gambling in general, because young people are affected when an adult in their lives experience gambling problems. The above video is just one example of the shocking degree of talent these young people have. This group member wrote a song about problem gambling, and has now performed it in the community three times. Prepare to get full body chills as you view this impromptu rendition she treated us to after walking in a parade and handing out information about problem gambling prevention.

Are you blown away yet? Well, check this out:

Another group member has been working on some artwork for t-shirts that will be worn by group members as they go out into the community to educate both teens and adults. These young people are truly astounding. Want to learn more about this group? Send me an email with your questions, either through the contact page or to ethielen@nicasa.org.

Sports Wagering and the Fan/Athlete Relationship

I used to collect autographs from the fighters I most admired and had the opportunity to meet. That all ended when I was privileged to meet the greatest of all time. I still treasure my “ALI” hat, that he signed on the underside of the bill. I mean, how to you top that? You don’t. Drop the mic, I’ve reached the top. Collecting autographs or memorabilia, having posters on your wall, or an image of our favorite athlete as a screensaver; our relationship to our favorite athletes is special whether or not we ever get to meet them in person. Thankfully, I never got into sports betting. And it’s hard to imagine ever betting against any of the fighters I loved routing for: Julio Cesar Chavez, Roy Jones, Jr., Evander Holyfield, Oscar DeLaHoya, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Christy Martin, Hector Camacho, Riddick Bowe, James Toney, Vinnie Pazienza, Kostya Tszyu…okay I’ll stop now!

But the availability of sports wagering following many states legalizing this activity has opened up the door for betting right alongside enjoying our favorite sports. It also creates the potential for the unique relationship between player and fan to be altered. A sports fan who chooses to engage in sports betting would be wise to keep this in mind before getting caught up in placing bets. “How will I feel if I bet on my team and they lose?” “What if my favorite player fumbles a play and I lose this bet?” “What if I have better odds of winning by betting against my team?” These are all important questions for a potential bettor to ask themselves.

Check out this article from Sports Illustrated about how players have already begun experiencing backlash from bettors. Don’t think this could be you? Keep in mind gambling in and of itself can be a slippery slope. No one starts out planning to gamble in a disordered way. Likewise, no sports bettor starts out thinking “I’m going to lose my love of this sport, come to hate my favorite players, and seethe with anger at the athletes when I lose a bet.”

So, if someone chooses to bet, sticking to some pre-determined ground rules makes sense. What are your boundaries? What will you never do? Can you put that to paper? Commit that to a friend? Many sports wagering apps have tools for limit setting, time outs, and other “responsible gambling” features. Other apps, like Gamble Responsibly America (available for free download through the app store), and websites like responsibleplay.org and mywagerscore.com have tips and tools for trying to keep your eye on the ball, and not letting sports betting spin out of control. And it’s never a bad idea to talk to a counselor to explore your own individual risk for disordered gambling, to learn strategies for lower-risk gambling, and to make adjustments as you go if betting doesn’t go the way you thought it would.

No matter what, “don’t let sports betting get in the way of the game!”

Don’t Let Sports Betting Get in the Way of the Game

We are so honored to be one of the first 4 Agility Grants awarded by the National Council on Problem Gambling. Funded by the National Football League Foundation, with additional support from FanDuel, this project will expand our Teen Problem Gambling Creative Group. This group has already done an incredible job raising awareness of teen problem gambling, and we’re now looking to grow. Do you know a teen looking to use their creativity to make a positive impact on the community? Are you an adult with skills and resources to support their efforts (ex. graphic design, marketing, community activism, connections with youth athletics, etc.)? Scan the code on the above flier to connect with us and learn more.

What it means to be strong…

I heard a quote that came to mind as I listened to two powerful speakers at recent Problem Gambling Awareness Month events. Their presentations are available for view in this post. The quote I found summed up the courage, vulnerability, and strength they (and other speakers) demonstrated when telling their stories of adversity, overcoming obstacles and thriving. Here it is:

“Strength is not the absence of weakness, but instead, the courage to show vulnerability and speak the truth.” (I don’t know who should be credited for these words, so contact me if you do, so I can properly credit them.)

As athletes, we sometimes hold on to core values, like the value of strength, long after our days of competing are over. And this is okay. But, if we keep a narrow view of strength, we might fall prey to thinking we can “power through” something like a gambling problem, or that struggling with gambling makes us weak. But what if we took our cue from these women and their strength of character? What if we realized that to admit vulnerability and to say “I’m struggling. I need help.” and to spread a message of hope, is where our true strength lies?

There is a precedent for this in our own backgrounds. If we’re falling short in a certain area, cardio vascular endurance, explosive power, a specific movement, we work to identify that, seek the help of a coach or training partner, and build up the area that is lacking. So, athletes, you have all the strength you need. It’s already there. Maybe you just need to look at it a little differently. Take it from another angle. Please take some time to watch one or both of these presentations, and draw strength from their stories. Take care, everyone!

Is this a climb, or a fall?

If you watch the short clip above, do you see a climb, or a fall? As a former athlete who knows the importance of finding new and healthy (and age appropriate!) ways to stay competitive, I’m drawn to the challenge of climbing. You reach up and grab that first hold, lift yourself up, find your next hold, your next step. You wonder if you’ll fall. You worry about how you’ll land if/when you do fall. After falling, you have to decide whether to even try again, and, if so, what to do the same and what to do differently.

Anyone seeking to make changes around gambling might find some of this familiar. What would the first step be? Deciding to quit? Cut back? How would I do it? What course would I take? What if I can’t do it? Who’s there to catch me if I fall? With addictive behaviors, it’s easy to take an all or nothing approach. A slip can cause someone to become disheartened, to think they just can’t do it. Finding the balance, the shades of gray, trusting the process (there was a note saying this very thing taped to the wall at the above indoor rock-climbing place!), can be difficult. And for athletes, maybe even more so. Have you heard the phrase “you’re either first or you’re last”? Making changes around gambling or any other addictive behavior requires cultivating a different mindset; demands finding and focusing on hope, getting up after every fall, and trying again.

We had a workshop yesterday as part of our Problem Gambling Awareness Month activities. Our guest speaker was Dr. Sandra Adell, professor, author, actor and former model, who read excerpts from her memoir “Confessions of a Slot Machine Queen” and from an upcoming publication “Black Women Speak Out About Casino Gambling.”

Dr. Adell’s talk was positive and empowering. It got me to thinking about the importance of hope and perseverance. Gambling problems can have devastating effects on all parts of one’s life; their relationships, finances, work, health, and emotional well-being. These areas can take a lot of time to address, even after gambling has stopped. For some, it may feel like an unbearable weight, an impossible climb. In telling her story, Dr. Adell emphasized the power of recovery, healing, of being in community. No one has to carry the weight alone. There is always someone willing to belay you, always support to cushion a fall. So, if you struggle to make changes around gambling, find your support network. You are not alone. Check out http://www.gamblersinrecovery.com for 100’s of online support meetings. Call or text the National Gambling Hotline at 1-800-522-4700.

Above all, keep climbing. You may get scraped, bruised and sore, but I promise you the view is spectacular.

Want to learn more about how we work to raise awareness of problem gambling and the help that’s available? email us at gambling@nicasa.org

Happy National Girls & Women in Sports Day!

Today is National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD). According to the Women’s Sports Federation, “This celebration inspires girls and women to play and be active, to realize their full power. The confidence, strength and character gained through sports participation are the very tools girls and women need to become strong leaders in sports and life.”

Women’s sports has come a long way. To share an example from my own amateur boxing career: back in 1997, I think, I fought at a USA Boxing event that was to be filmed and aired on ESPN2. One of the commentators was Al Bernstein. Are you kidding me? I was going to get to hear what this legendary commentator thought about me and my fight? I was beyond excited. My jab was on fire that night, and I won by TKO. I was heartbroken to learn afterwards that the camera crew had packed up after filming the first hour of the event only. My match was immediately following this. I don’t think Al even realized it, as he had still been there watching and commenting. My match was the only knockout of the night, and I would argue, the most exciting. But it didn’t air. I believe it was due to being in the early days of women’s boxing that we were not extended the same respect as our male counterparts, where the entire event would be filmed and the most exciting and noteworthy bouts highlighted on air. You may be asking yourself, “what does any of this have to do with gambling?” I’ll get there, but I just needed to get that out, as it’s still one big regret I have from so long ago. I missed out on the validation that would have come from such a great presence in the sport weighing in on my performance. (Another quick example: a local journalist had mentioned one of my upcoming fights as a “girls’ tiff.” My stepfather went right into the newsroom and gave him heck. I ended that match by knockout as well. Some ‘tiff!”)

Sigh. Okay, move on. With champions like Christy Martin and Layla Ali, women’s boxing has since gained the respect it deserves, and those who devote themselves to the sweet science are no longer seen as a sideshow, something to be leered at or ignored. I am forever grateful to my Coach, Matt DeForce, my old gym, the Lower Eastside Sports Center in Erie, PA, and everyone who supported and encouraged me while I pursued something that honestly came with equal parts pain and frustration along with the successes and satisfaction. It’s through the experiences I had and the confidence I gained that I can stand up in front of crowds and discuss tough topics, like problem gambling. The shame and confusion that can come with experiencing disordered gambling add insult to injury. They can make getting help and getting well seem almost impossible.

There was a time when a woman could walk into a support group for problem gambling, look around, and see no other women. It would not have been uncommon, after getting up the guts to talk about how slot machines are ruining her life, to be told “come back when you have a real addiction.” You see, there can be, to some extent, gender differences when it comes to games of choice. Women tend to play slot machines, men tend to sports bet, play cards, dice, or bet on the horses. This isn’t always the case, and I do believe that many female athletes gravitate more towards the typically “male” games. I have also known many males that got caught up playing video slots or video poker, so these gender differences definitely have exceptions. All of this to say, some ways back, women didn’t often get a welcoming and validating response when and if they reached out for help. And asking for help is no easy thing. When it doesn’t go well, that person often descends deeper into the addictive behavior.

As the years have passed, gender barriers have been breaking down in this area, just as in sports. More women can be seen “in the rooms.” I am so proud of one woman I know who started a support group, in order to help other females impacted by problem gambling to have one meeting, at least, led by another female. And online treatment and support makes it easier for individuals to find groups that feel most meaningful and comfortable for them. Every step forward is a step in the right direction. Let’s keep it going.

I am piggybacking on NGWSD this year through the end of March, National Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM), to raise awareness of problem gambling and the help that’s available. I’ve just begun their 50 mile challenge, that goes through June 23rd, which is the 50 year anniversary of Title IX, which in part seeks to provide equal academic and athletic access to women. My goal will be to complete my 50 miles by the end of PGAM. I will make periodic posts on social media about my progress, so keep your eye on our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok pages. So, my shin splints will be well worth it, if while I’m running the trails, roads, or tying up the gym’s treadmill, my gambling awareness shirts or posts are seen by even just one person who needs to know they’re not alone; if just one person is given the confidence they need to call 1-800-GAMBLER (in Illinois) or the national helpline 1-800-542-4700.

And they’re…….NOT safe!

What we are exposed to matters. Right now, sports wagering is so widely spoken about, advertised and engaged in that young people can’t help but notice. Some parents are betting on the sidelines of youth sports, and some are even helping their kids to place bets. What many people don’t realize is this: exposing young brains to gambling puts them at risk for developing a gambling problem. Research in brain development tells us that this is just like early exposure to alcohol and other substances. It hurts kids and can lead to a potentially fatal addictive disorder. Don’t think gambling disorder is deadly? Consider this: disordered gamblers have a suicide attempt rate higher than that of any other addictive disorder. So, let’s take this seriously. And remember that athletes are just one group at increased risk for disordered gambling. Adolescents are another. So, you can see why gambling and youth sports are a bad combination.

A recent campaign put out by Stop Predatory Gambling released these startling statistics:

Parents, coaches, teachers and other caring adults: if you choose to participate in sports wagering, don’t involve kids or teens. Enjoy sports in a way that focuses on the excitement and energy of the event, the players’ records, the punch stats, all that; not the odds, the over-under, or any of that.

In the rare event you see an ad for “responsible gambling” (see prior post for thoughts on this term), like for the NFL’s newly launched site responsibleplay.org, use it as a chance to highlight that some people are hurt by sports betting. The number and intensity of ads encouraging sports betting are really indicators of the amount of money to be lost, not won. After all, how much do you think it costs to run all those ads? The revenue generated from sports wagering is in the billions. Revenue = players’ losses. Enough is being lost on sports wagering already. Let’s not lose our kids, too!

Want a free workshop on teen gambling? Workshops are held by Zoom and available at no cost to Illinoisans. Just fill out this contact form. Not from Illinois but want to sit in on an Illinois-based event? No problem. Just fill out the form and we’ll let you know what’s available. We also can provide public awareness materials, like the flier shown below, to youth sports leagues and athletic departments. Let us know what you need and we’ll get it to you.

Also, please watch and share this short educational clip put together with some fantastic and brilliant volunteers from our Teen Problem Gambling Focus Group. Who better to teach about teen gambling than the teens themselves?!

Remember, don’t let sports betting get in the way of the game!

That’s Why the Lady is a Champ!

This workshop was recorded only briefly for a quick soundbite, and to allow Christy and participants to talk candidly. Please let me know if you’d like to discuss putting on another such event.

We recently had former WORLD CHAMPION boxer Christy Martin in to speak to the community about domestic violence, addiction, and her remarkable story of survival and resilience. Though gambling was not part of Christy’s story, she highlighted the reality that you never can know what someone is going through behind closed doors.

I remember as an amateur boxer coming up at the time she had reached the highest levels of success in professional women’s boxing, thinking that she had it all. I admired, and let’s be honest, envied, that she could train full-time and dedicate herself fully to the sport. After all, she lived and breathed boxing, with her coach also being her husband and manager. In her workshop with us, Christy stated “you all though I was on top of the world. But the world was really on top of me.” You see, it was all a façade. The more success in the ring Christy achieved, the more her husband and coach tightened his grip on every aspect of her life. From installing cameras throughout their home, to preventing her from being out of his sight long enough even to go to the salon. How else could he keep her from getting help, from letting people know that she was being abused and terrorized in her own home, that she had turned to drugs as an escape?

I look back and am ashamed at my petty envy of her situation. I imagine I would not have survived her circumstances, had I been in her shoes. The situation was truly that dire. It was life and death serious. She survived a brutal attack and attempted murder, recovered from her addiction, and now shares her story with others to shine the light on some very dark issues.

I heard in a song recently something like “you want to be great? Put the “e” after the “t” and add “ful.” We are forever GRATEFUL for Christy’s bravery, humility, and generosity. People who struggle with such issues behind closed doors are also in life or death circumstances. People with gambling disorder have a suicide attempt rate higher than that of ANY OTHER ADDICTION. So please don’t assume you know what someone’s life is like by what you see on the outside. I’ve seen gamblers whose beautiful homes are empty on the inside. No furniture; knickknacks; nothing. Everything pawned due to the never-ending loss-chasing. And to hit this idea home even further: another guest speaker (Ray, see screen shot below) recently shared that, at the height of his gambling addiction, he almost chose suicide when faced with not having money for presents for his children at the holidays.

This workshop was live and not recorded, to facilitate open dialogue. Workshop hosted in partnership with MAHA, the Midwest Asian Healthcare Association. Thanks, MAHA and Ray!

What’s our takeaway? Gambling disorder and other addictive disorders are potentially fatal. It’s imperative that we do everything we can to prevent them, that we help athletes and others who have increased risk learn about their specific vulnerability, and that we extend compassion and understanding to those who struggle. And let’s not forget GRATITUDE. To those, like Christy, and Ray, who share their stories so openly in the hopes that others can come into the light. Thanks to you and every other person that pays it forward to help others in similar circumstances. You are truly a GIFT.

If you would like to attend a workshop like one of those mentioned in this post, please contact me at gamblingservices@nicasa.org. We provide free workshops to any Illinois group to raise awareness of problem gambling.

I believe that we will win!

I recently attended some amateur boxing matches at the ONE Fitness Center in Elgin, IL. The announcer did a great job of getting the crowd pumped up. At one point, she led the crowd in chanting “I”, “I believe,” “I believe that,” “I believe that we will win.” Sometimes the energy we call upon to push through pain, to dig deep and keep fighting, is truly miraculous. But can we apply that same drive to fighting problem gambling, when we realize that gambling is hurting us? Yes, we can.

It can sometimes be easier to stay stuck in bad patterns. My coach used to correct us all the time. He said “practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Meaning, if you practice the wrong thing over and over again, you’re going to do that in the ring because you’ve ingrained that bad habit. I’ve seen people who get in the habit of dropping their hands, adjusting their headgear or cup, while hitting the bags and sparring. It gives them a couple of seconds to catch their breath and ease muscles that are burning. But what it also does is this. They drop their hands, adjust their headgear, cup or whatever in an actual match. Do you think their opponent thinks “oh, no problem. Just take care of that real quick. I’ll give you a sec.”? Heck no! They see their opening and go in for the K.O. punch.

So, back to my point. It can be hard to put down a behavior that’s become ingrained, even when we know we need to. Whether its alcohol, cocaine, over-eating, video gaming or gambling, those patterns can be hard to break. The good (no, great) news is this: you CAN fight problem gambling. To break these patterns, we need to establish new patterns. People and places and things that contribute to disordered gambling? Avoid these. Replace them with people, places, and things (and even thoughts) that are not compatible with gambling. Believe it or not, it can feel like running through water. For example: go to the gym when you would usually gamble; keep your phone turned off during sporting events you would usually use a sports wagering app during; tell yourself “I’ve decided not to gamble anymore, and I’m going to stick to it.” Over and over, and over again. Go to Gamblers Anonymous or SMART Recovery meetings to get support and advice from other people making changes in their lives. Slowly those new patterns take hold and get stronger. Old patterns are weakened and atrophy.

So, remember. Perfect practice makes perfect. Lay down some new pathways in your brain. Keep bobbing and weaving as unexpected turns come your way. Tell yourself: “I”, “I believe,” “I believe that,” “I believe that we will win.” You CAN fight problem gambling.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” -Mike Tyson

This is one life lesson gifted to us by “Iron” Mike Tyson. This holds true in the ring, on the court, and on the field. Going into a sporting event with a clear plan can definitely improve an athletes’ performance. But we also need to be able to adjust when the unexpected occurs and affects our plan. I had a match once when I just wasn’t landing my punches. I was tangling up and clinching with my opponent, something I really wasn’t accustomed to. Coming back to my corner, my coach said “your problem is we didn’t know she’s a southpaw, like you.” We had to quickly change my strategy and come up with a plan on how to move around the ring differently, what to throw and in what order, etc. I was able to come out on top to win the match.

The same lesson applies to gambling. If someone chooses to gamble, they had better have a plan. Gambling is inherently risky. There are ways to try and lower that risk. The term “responsible gambling” is what is most often used to describe ways to gamble in a “lower risk” way. But I want to take a quick minute to challenge that terminology.

To use the term responsible implies that those who don’t gamble in this way are irresponsible. But there are a lot of reasons someone might gamble in a disordered way, and it’s not about being irresponsible. For example: early exposure to gambling; being an athlete; medications that increase compulsive behaviors; family history; or coping with trauma or physical or emotional pain, can all contribute to disordered gambling. So, would we say that people who have difficulties with gambling due to some of these factors are irresponsible? No, we couldn’t in all fairness say that.

This doesn’t mean that people can’t gamble in an irresponsible way. Both disordered and non-disordered gamblers can do that. Is it irresponsible to gamble with money you need for bills? Yes, it is. Is it responsible to risk money you have on an outcome that is unknown, in the hopes of winning more money (that’s what gambling is, folks)? I’d really have to say it’s not.

So, let’s get past labeling people as responsible or irresponsible. Instead, let’s outline some of the behaviors that can lower someone’s risk, if they choose to gamble:

-setting dollar and time limits, and sticking to them

-using only money they can afford to lose (not money they need for bills, savings, or other obligations)

-not borrowing money (this includes not taking cash advances or loans, not pawning or selling items) in order to gamble or deal with financial problems caused by gambling

-not mixing gambling with alcohol or other substance use (which can alter memory and judgment)

-not gambling to escape personal problems

-not hiding your gambling or lying about your winnings/losses

-not chasing losses (returning later or another day to try to win back what you’ve lost)

-not letting gambling affect relationships, work or health

-knowing the signs of a possible problem, and getting help if these are noticed

Okay, so what about when that unexpected happens? Many “low-risk” gamblers have the potential to become disordered gamblers when circumstances change. Grief and loss can be one cause, especially when that person was someone they used to gamble with. People can actually gamble more as they grieve their loved one, in an effort to remember them and feel closer to them. People can also experience loss related to their health, or stages of their lives. When people’s bodies start to fail them, when they feel adrift after retiring from the workforce; these are high risk times for gambling to become disordered. And what about job loss, or other financial insecurity? Sometimes people will see gambling as their solution. And, unfortunately, the odds are not in their favor. Gambling can often lead to greater financial concerns. These are just some of the things that can happen that should have people re-evaluating their plans.

Listen to Mike. Expect the unexpected. Be ready to adjust course as needed. And for some people, that might mean taking a break from gambling while you sort out life’s left hooks.

As this blog seeks to highlight, athletes have some serious risks, and therefore should be even more cautious about bringing gambling into their lives. As we near Responsible Gaming Education Week September 19-25, 2021, Nicasa is offering free workshops for individuals, groups or organizations who want to learn more. Click Here to register.