She remembers the time and the day with utter clarity. It was exactly 7 PM last October 29, a Sunday evening. Julie A. was sitting in the living room of her modest apartment in the Austin neighborhood, staring at the television set and holding $40 worth of lottery tickets in her hand. The drawings had just taken place on Channel Nine, and Julie once again had not won a thing.

“It came to me then that I wasn’t going to win,” she says, “not today, not tomorrow, not next week, not ever.” She started to cry.

Julie is a 33-year-old single mother who supported herself and her 13-year-old son by working as a manager of a downtown magazine, tobacco, and candy store. For over three years she had impressed the owners with her efficiency and dedication to the job.

Julie got up, turned off the television, and went into the dining room where her boyfriend was reading. “I can’t go on like this,” she said, holding her worthless tickets. “I’ve got to stop! I’m going to stop!”

He didn’t know what she was talking about. She bet on the lottery? So what! Maybe she put out more than she should, but it’s no big deal.

“You don’t understand,” she said. She took him into the bedroom, opened the dresser drawer, and showed him stacks and stacks of losing lottery tickets–thousands. She had saved them all.

“My God!” he said, “where’d you get the money for all this?”

“From my job,” said Julie. “I’ve been stealing from the receipts.”

“How deep are you in?” he asked.

“About $20,000,” she said.

By now, Sharon Sharp, director of the Illinois lottery, can smell a suspicious reporter a mile away, so she is icily competent as she explains the benefits of “gaming.”

“It’s entertainment,” she says, “not gambling. We’re not trying to persuade anyone to go in over their head, and we’re not trying to encourage current players to spend more. We’re mainly trying to bring in new players.”

Apparently, she has been quite successful in her task. When Sharp, a staunch supporter of Governor James Thompson and a former deputy director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, took over as director three years ago, the lottery was a tottering affair. Total sales hovered around $1.3 billion a year, hardly a depressing figure in itself, but the operation seemed to be on a treadmill. A study by Sangamon State University researchers indicated growing dissatisfaction, especially among veteran players. Some experts contended that the Illinois lottery, begun in 1974, was past its prime; they expected a precipitous drop in sales at any time, the way seismologists await the next California earthquake. Even the lottery ads in the mid-1980s displayed a certain desperate quality–insisting that “everybody is a winner” and promising beauty, youth, and romance as well as money.

Sharp and her associates have reversed the trend. Last year the Illinois lottery had its best year ever, with sales of almost $1.6 billion–up $240 million over the previous year. All of which provided some $800 million in prizes for winners and $590 million for the state’s Common School Fund. A major reason for the upsurge is the frequency of gigantic Lotto jackpots: $52 million last February, $70 million in April 1989. These gargantuan jackpots have been achieved by the devilishly simple device of increasing the number of balls involved in the Lotto drawing from 44 to 54. The odds against anyone picking the six winners on a one-dollar bet are thereby increased significantly, to 12,913,582 to 1–or about 20 times the odds against your being hit by lightning. The occasional rollovers of the grand prize from week to week generate scads of free publicity, mounting suspense, and epidemic last-minute ticket buying.

“What we’ve found is that the big jackpots bring in a lot of new players,” says Sharp. “Sales tend to remain proportionally higher in the following weeks, too”–when the pot may be only a measly three or four million.

Sharp tries to have something for everybody. For people who want better odds, there’s Little Lotto, where your chances of picking all five balls are 1 in 324,632. For those who desire quicker results, there’s the Daily Game and Pick 4; and for those requiring immediate gratification there’s a variety of carefully researched instant games, all designed to appeal to different segments of society: Hoopla, Millionaire, Big Money, $100,000 Fortune Hunt.

Every three months, Sharp, her chief lottery vendors, and the creative people from the lottery’s ad agency huddle for two days of intensive brain work. They scrap games that aren’t working (that is, not making hefty profits) and come up with innovative twists on others. For example, when research determined that the Illinois lottery wasn’t making inroads on that sedentary mass of citizens addicted to television game shows, the $100,000 Fortune Hunt was introduced. The big attraction here is that everyone who buys a ticket has a chance to be a guest on the lottery’s own game show (televised Saturdays on Channel Nine) and walk away with cash or a Caribbean cruise. Despite the fact that the game requires no skill, Sharp says it has the highest viewer ratings during its time slot. More important, it’s luring couch potatoes out of the house and down to one of the many handy locations where Illinois lottery tickets are available.

Now that the lottery is on firmer footing, the advertising is less overpowering and shrill. There’s a light, almost self-mocking tone to some of the television commercials–an indication that the lottery views itself as a permanent fixture. “We don’t try to fool anyone,” notes Sharp. “We’re selling fun, we’re selling recreation, and everyone knows that.”

Sharp readily acknowledges that some people have gambling addictions, but she totally disagrees that the lottery promotes that sort of thing. “There’s a big difference between compulsive gamblers and lottery players,” she says. “First, gamblers like fast, competitive action, and the lottery is just too tame and slow to interest them. Also, gamblers like to exercise skill in picking winners; but skill is irrelevant in the lottery, which is based solely on chance.”

Skill may be irrelevant now, but that could change. A development on the horizon is a sports lottery, offering players the opportunity to bet on professional football and basketball games. A proposal has been submitted to the Illinois legislature, and senate president Philip Rock says he is favorably disposed toward it, since the funds could help renovate McCormick Place and build the Bears’ new domed stadium. Sharp sees sports betting as providing a whole new clientele of wagerers who would instantly swell lottery sales by millions of dollars.

There are some problems to this. Oregon, which recently launched a basketball lottery, was sued by the National Basketball Association on grounds that the game infringed on the NBA’s property rights. It is likely that a sports lottery in Illinois, home of so many professional teams, would encounter even more strenuous objections from pro owners. But Sharp remains convinced the lottery has to grow or die, and sports bettors are a mighty tempting untapped market.

Julie A. grew up in Chicago, the only girl among the six children in her family. “We never had much money, but we didn’t suffer,” she says. “I was always regarded as a goody-two-shoes by my brothers, always the responsible, honest person around the house and at school.” She graduated from Orr High School and went on to business college. When she became pregnant at 20, she decided to have the baby and raise the child herself.

Julie went to work for a firm that owns a string of magazine and sundry stores in large downtown office buildings. She proved such a quick learner and able businesswoman that she was eventually made retail manager of eight of the stores–a responsibility that seemed to wear her down. In February 1989 she became ill–from stress, she says, and an allergic condition. When she returned, the owners cut her duties back to just one store.

“I resented the demotion,” she says. “I worked hard. I felt I should be promoted. It seemed like they just intended to use me.”

Over the years, Julie had been a moderate lottery player, spending about $10 a week. After her illness, she began playing with more determination and more money. “I thought, I’m gonna win the lottery, then go to the boss and tell him to go to hell and take the job with him,” she says. “I wanted my independence. By April she had increased her bets to $25 a day, and she soon upped her ante to $100 a day.

“My store was a lottery outlet,” she says, “and I was the manager. So it was easy. I would just borrow some money from lottery receipts to make my bets. Then at the end of the week, I’d juggle the books so it would look like everything was OK.” Sometimes she would win a little–$25 or $75–and she would dutifully put some in the till. But the borrowing continued and she kept falling further behind.

“I’d wake up every morning with hope–the lottery would be the first thing I’d think about,” recalls Julie. “I’d be excited all day until after seven o’clock, when the winning numbers were picked on Channel Nine. Then usually I’d feel just awful . . .”

“There’s no question about it,” says Dr. Valerie Lorenz. “The lottery is a major factor in the increase of compulsive gambling in this country. . . . State officials aggressively promote gambling. . . . Their advertising is pervasive; you cannot escape it. And the lotteries promote all forms of gambling with their variations on card games, raffles, even sports betting. They tell us that gambling is fine! They promote fantasies, impulse spending, living in a dream world. . . . Don’t tell me there’s no link between lotteries and compulsive gambling!”

Lorenz is executive director of the National Center for Pathological Gambling, Inc., in Baltimore, Maryland, the only facility in the country devoted exclusively to research into, treatment of, and education in the problem. Compulsive gambling, says Lorenz, is “the addiction of the 90s,” threatening to bring with it as much grief and tragedy as cocaine brought to the 80s. Already it’s a significant social and economic problem, she says, costing as much in financial terms as the current drug epidemic, and perhaps more in medical complications.

Many drug addicts tend to drop out of society, says Lorenz, so they harm themselves primarily; gambling addicts remain in their homes, harming everyone around them. “Do you realize,” said Lorenz, “that the suicide rate among gambling addicts is the highest of any known addiction?”

Her center’s study of heavy gamblers in Maryland produced some disturbing data: 60 percent admitted to taking part in some kind of criminal activity, such as check forgery, during the previous year; 80 percent admitted to civil violations such as drunk driving or chronic speeding; 25 percent had been involved in single-vehicle accidents.

The fastest growing population among problem gamblers is female, says Lorenz: as women attain more financial independence and experience more job stress, they are being lured into what was virtually a males-only vice. For increasing numbers of women, she insists, the lottery is the doorway to a world of fast excitement and slow (if any) recovery.

To be sure, a clear cause-and-effect connection between lotteries and compulsive gambling has not been established with statistical rigor. Some authorities, like Dr. Vincent Pisani, director of the addictive behaviors program at the Rush-Presbyterian-Saint Luke’s Medical Center, deny any “causal relationship.” But even Pisani acknowledges that the handiness of lottery outlets is bound to entice people with a “predisposition” to gambling. And there can be no question about that handiness: 9,200 agents, 320 employees, and over 10 billion tickets sold to date.

Just how many people have that predisposition is also a matter of conjecture. For many years it was commonly assumed that fewer than one million Americans were truly addicted to gambling, with horse racing and casinos the most popular forms. But a three-year study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health reported in 1988 that at least 4.2 million persons are addicted (36 per cent of them women, 43 percent nonwhite, 38 percent under the age of 30, and 60 percent with incomes under $25,000). Later studies, reports Financial World magazine, put the number of addicts as high as 12 million. At the very least, it can no longer be asserted that the number of compulsive gamblers is negligible or that instances of serious addiction are aberrations.

According to Gaming & Wagering Business magazine, the total amount of money spent on legal and illegal gambling in the United States last year was $252 billion, a 67 percent increase from the 1982 figure. That amounts to about 33 percent of the U.S. money supply and is more than Americans spent on health insurance, dentists, shoes, foreign travel, and household appliances put together. Even though most of that money was merely recirculated, ending up in the hands of winners, an estimated $28 billion profit was realized by the games’ operators, among them bookies, casino owners, and state governments.

State-sponsored lotteries are the number-one reason for the gambling explosion, Duke University economists Charles T. Clotfelter and Philip J. Cook declare in their exhaustive new book, Selling Hope: State Lotteries in America. Until 1964, they note, lotteries were illegal in every state. Now they’re operating in 33 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Eleven of these lotteries have been launched just since 1981, and the annual per capita sale of tickets in lottery states has shot from $10 in 1975 to $101 in 1988.

Clotfelter and Cook, who interviewed a battery of sociologists, psychologists, and medical experts, are devastating in their analysis of the social effects of lotteries. Lotteries, they contend, use misleading advertising, offer terrible odds, generate revenue far less important to the states than people imagine, and, most important, make gamblers of millions who have never wagered before–especially those who can least afford it. The lottery is “a powerful recruiting device,” they conclude, since legitimate civil authority not only puts its seal of acceptance on gambling but urges participation almost as a civic duty.

“What if the state did the same thing for the sale of vodka or cigarettes?” asks Dr. Lorenz. “What if the state spent millions advertising these things? Wouldn’t responsible people react?”

But until the mental health community can convince a large and influential segment of the public that gambling is dangerous and that lotteries are the entryway to the habit, Lorenz does not expect any change. The state needs the money, and it’s a lot easier for legislators to approve a lottery than a tax increase.

Clotfelter and Cook’s research claimed that 20 percent of lottery players account for 65 percent of the money wagered, with poor blacks and Hispanics doing most of the gambling. A survey they conducted in California indicated that 10 percent of the players purchased more than 50 percent of the tickets.

Illinois lottery officials contend that no such imbalance occurs here. According to the Sangamon State survey, state lottery players are 79 percent white, 15 percent black, and 4 percent Hispanic–figures that approximate these groups’ representation in the general population. However, the survey also reported that 22 percent of Illinois players have incomes of less than $15,000 and that 31 percent of black players wagered more than $25 a week on the lottery, compared to only 12 percent of whites.

Two years ago a Chicago Sun-Times survey found that in the ten metro Chicago zip code areas with the highest household incomes (including Winnetka and Lake Forest), the average per capita lottery purchase in fiscal 1987 was $76. In the ten zip code areas with lowest incomes (including Garfield Park and Pilsen), the average per capita purchase was $221. At the time, state senator Howard Brookins complained, “The poor are using essential moneys, moneys they need to pay rent, pay the light bill, buy milk for the babies. They are using this money for the lottery. And that is our problem.”

Lottery opponents like Brookins also point out that the lottery doesn’t really generate any extra funds for the state’s public schools. Even though lottery revenues theoretically go into the Common School Fund, the school budget is already set by the state legislature, regardless of the lottery. In reality, the funds realized through the lottery affect a lot of other state programs that would otherwise have to be trimmed back. In any event, the overall impact is not great. Raising the state income tax from 2.5 percent of personal income to 2.83 percent would achieve the same effect as the lottery–without all the hoopla and “adventure.”

Julie never spent any of the money she was taking from store receipts on clothes, food, or jewelry. “That would have been stealing,” she says. “I was just borrowing it. For a long time I felt sure I’d win a big pot and everything would be straightened out. Nobody would know the difference.”

Julie never considered going to the track or betting on sports. That would have been gambling, and that wasn’t the sort of thing a respectable businesswoman would do.

She made out bogus deposit slips at the end of each week, craftily hiding any trace of the money she was spending. Her store was a busy one, with $5,000 a day in ordinary sales and another $2,000 in the lottery. Concealing her activity was easy; she could even stay after hours some days and play the Instant Game. The supervisors who studied her reports never questioned her figures.

But the goody-two-shoes side of Julie’s nature began to act up. “I realized this had become an obsessive-compulsive thing with me,” she says. “I knew I was sick and getting in very deep. My conscience bothered me.” Still, she kept thinking that she had to win eventually, that the odds would soon turn in her favor.

“The odds in the lottery are miserable,” says Mike I., a 45-year-old insurance salesman from Broadview who gambled his way through college. “Cards, sports, pool–you name it,” he says. “I was a smart gambler, did my homework, always set aside a portion of any winning pot. I was not compulsive.”

Then one day seven years ago, he placed a $1 lottery bet at a Cicero grocery store and won $290 on the spot. “The fever hit me,” he says. “Winning that money was the worst thing that could have happened to me! I started playing the lottery every day.”

He went from $5 to $15 to $100 a day very quickly. He borrowed money from friends and still got behind on routine household bills. His wife, daughter, and stepdaughter didn’t know what was going on. “My wife thought I was seeing another woman,” he says. “You see, a compulsive gambler refuses to admit he’s got a problem to himself or anyone else.”

As a veteran wagerer, Mike knew skill had no bearing on winning the lottery. Yet such was his state of mind that this articulate, college-educated man sought bizarre ways to break through “the system.” One method he employed was to check the Ziggy cartoon in the Sun-Times each day, looking for hidden numbers in the drawing or counting the number of words in the caption. “A lot of guys use that,” says Mike. “I even won with it a few times.” A more conventional method involved consulting the so-called magic books for sale in heavy play areas. Dream booklets, for example, assign appropriate numbers to occurrences and objects that show up in dreams. According to the “Prince Ali Lucky Star Five Dream Book,” if you see apples, the correct number to bet is 416; if bugs show up in your dreams, it’s 305; a priest 001; somebody named Judith 557. Prince Ali does not reveal the source of his information.

Mike also carefully tracked the winning numbers in each day’s lottery drawing, searching for patterns. “If I found the same number turning up six out of seven days in the Pick 4,” he says, “I’d play that for sure. Once I found that one of the three numbers in the Daily Game always seemed to be a winner in the next day’s game. Sure, I knew it’s all pure chance, but when you see numbers repeating like that it makes you wonder.”

Besides, he says, the lottery is so seductive because it’s available everywhere: “It’s the action, the challenge, the adventure, the living on the edge.” Eventually his wife divorced him, his company fired him, and he contemplated suicide.

With the help of Gamblers Anonymous, Mike quit the lottery in 1985, when his debts exceeded $10,000; he is slowly picking up the pieces of his life. Still, he admits candidly, “There’s places I have to avoid–like a certain gas station where I used to make my bets. If I’d go in there, I’m afraid the temptation would be too great.”

Impossible odds proved no obstacle to Rick K., a 31-year-old tuckpointer-painter from the north side who began surrendering his life to Lotto in 1982. He delved into numerology, produced huge charts that he mounted on his bedroom walls, and kept a scrupulous account of the winning numbers–just the way astrologers track the planets. His lucky numbers, he concluded, were 6-6-0, so he began betting $660 a week on variations of those numbers. Twice he got five out of six in the Lotto drawing, winning $2,800 and $500. “When you’re on a run, the adrenaline is really flowing,” he says. “Gambling is better than sex.”

It is also a lot more expensive, he discovered. Over a four-year period, he lost $52,000, including his furniture, a motorcycle, two cars, a set of drums, and all the profits from his business. He quit gambling for a while, figured he was cured, then began making daily bets again in 1987 on the old Cash 5 game. He was so relaxed he even skipped betting some days. Then in 1988 he missed three days in a row, only to discover that his cherished 6-6-0 had been a big winner one of those days; he had blundered away a sure $125,000!

“I lost control,” says Rick. “I wanted that money back!” Within a few weeks he had lost another $12,000. Finally he went to Gamblers Anonymous in desperation, and he’s been clean since. “Now at least I know I’m not cured,” he says. “And I never will be.”

For some, the lure of the lottery knows no limits. A Michigan woman now in prison wrote dozens of worthless checks for thousands of dollars, all to feed her lottery habit. A banker from Champaign embezzled $1 million from his bank seeking a major kill in the lottery.

A wealthy 53-year-old real estate investment agent from Maryland buried $1.5 million of his own money and $500,000 from his customers in lottery play. He did it, he says, for “the action, the quick hit, and the instant gratification” that the lottery provides. Toward the end of his spree, he notes, he picked his numbers on a wide variety of hunches: the number of a hotel room he was staying in, a flight number, the score of a Washington Redskins game–whatever inspired him. Currently out of prison on a work release program, he rues the “wasted years and the havoc I wreaked on my family and friends.”

The myth of the lucky number persists despite the mathematical evidence. Unless a lottery drawing is fixed, every number has exactly the same chance of being a winner–no matter how many times it may have popped up into the manicured fingers of Channel Nine’s Merri Dee or Joan McGrath in previous drawings. Nevertheless, the myth is much heralded and exploited by lottery promoters. Recorded telephone messages inform players what numbers and what combinations have often won or have never won and what patterns have appeared in recent drawings. For the serious student, the Illinois lottery’s colorful, free tabloid, Jackpot, reports on all the winning numbers for all the games for the entire year. Lottery ads urge people to find and play their “lucky number.”

And people really try. When certain popular numbers, like 8-8-8 or 2-2-2, win in the Daily Game, the lottery takes a terrible beating, paying out as much as five times what the game took in. Recently so many bettors were wagering on the license plate number of the truck in which baseball great Billy Martin was killed that New York lottery officials removed it from competition.

The day after she decided the odds would never bend her way, Julie sought help. “I knew about Alcoholics Anonymous for drinkers,” she says. “I figured there’s got to be something for this too.”

She found the Gamblers Anonymous phone number in the telephone book and was put in touch with Don Mitchell, who heads the Illinois Council on Compulsive Gambling. Mitchell listened to her story and quickly determined that she needed more than a support group; she needed a lawyer. He referred her to the Chicago Legal Assistance Foundation, which referred her to Chicago Catholic Charities, because Catholic Charities sponsors some federally funded programs for addicts. Catholic Charities sent her to a private attorney.

“I’ve been living a lie for months,” Julie told the lawyer. “I want to turn myself in to the police.” The lawyer offered to help but referred her to a psychiatrist, who strongly recommended long-term psychological counseling.

“Everyone wanted to know why I was so set on confessing,” says Julie. “I just had to! I couldn’t live with myself.” But also looming on her horizon was the detailed year-end audit of the company’s financial records. Julie was convinced the discrepancies would be uncovered and she would be hauled off to jail in handcuffs. So on January 6, accompanied by her own lawyer, Julie met with a lawyer representing her employer and with the chief of security for the company.

“They were polite,” recalls Julie. “They said they were sorry this had happened and glad I came forth.” But their main interest was in precisely how she, a mere store manager, had doctored the books so long without detection. She pointed out all the loopholes she had used. They took down notes. In the end, they told her they would certainly press criminal charges, despite her confession: Julie must serve as an example to other employees.

She was subsequently charged with felony theft and spent one night in the police lockup at 11th and State before her relatives bailed her out. (Her boyfriend had long since departed for good–shortly after seeing all those losing lottery tickets in the drawer.) On February 8 she pleaded guilty in Cook County Criminal Court. Her lawyer met with the state’s attorney’s prosecutor, and a lenient sentence was agreed on: 30 months’ probation and restitution of $7,500 of the stolen money at the rate of $250 a month.

Julie has become an active member of a Gamblers Anonymous group and sees her therapist every week. “I’m scared,” she says–not so much of the criminal charge hanging over her head but of the lottery. “Whenever the jackpot gets up to $50 million or so,” she says sadly, “I’ll admit I’m tempted, really tempted–even though I know if I buy one ticket I’ll start all over.”

Don Mitchell, a grizzled 15-year veteran of Gamblers Anonymous, sits in the basement of a north-side Lutheran church and shakes his head sadly. “The recovery prospects for gamblers are not great,” he says. “Over the years I’d say we’ve had about a 4 percent retention rate in GA. Some people stay clean for a year and a half, maybe three years. But sooner or later, an awful lot seem to relapse.”

In another room of the basement, 15 GA members are holding their weekly meeting, which in format and fundamentals is almost indistinguishable from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Mitchell knows all the members well. Many are on their third or fourth try to kick the habit.

“I don’t see a lot of concern for the addicted gambler among those who should be concerned,” says Mitchell. Not one cent of the $3.3 billion that the lottery has earned for the state in its 16-year history has gone for treatment of addicts, he notes. “And now the state wants to introduce riverboat gambling, also without any provision for treatment. I think the whole thing sucks!”

There are no treatment centers in Illinois, public or private, specifically for gambling addicts. There are none in most other states, for that matter. In fact the entire United States contains only about 40 centers concentrating on the problem, and 13 of them are in Iowa, which devotes one-half of a percent of its legal gambling revenues for treatment of compulsive gamblers. In 1986 the Illinois legislature passed a law requiring the Illinois Racing Board to fund programs to assist chronic gamblers. Most of that money has gone for treatment of racetrack employees. Until recently, Mitchell’s own support group, the Illinois Council on Compulsive Gambling, received a modest sum from the racing board fund, mainly to support its work as a referral service for Gamblers Anonymous. This year, however, the racing board shifted its contribution–$10,000–to Catholic Charities, which oversees drug and alcohol addiction programs but has had nothing specifically for gamblers.

Meanwhile, the Chicago area boasts 14 Gamblers Anonymous groups, each with 20 to 25 members. That’s about 350 people in an area that has at least 150,000 addicted gamblers, by the most conservative estimates. There are also several groups for family members of addicted gamblers. Since GA is an entirely volunteer operation, with no office or staff, it is largely dependent on support groups like Mitchell’s for referrals.

“We’ll try to continue as a service on a volunteer basis,” says Mitchell of his council’s 15-member board of recovering gamblers. “When people call for help, somebody’s got to be there.”

Catholic Charities had hoped for a more substantial racing board grant that would fund gambling-prevention programs, community referral and assessment, and some badly needed research. But Dennis Brittain, a consultant on addiction to Catholic Charities, says there’s “not a lot” the agency can do with $10,000 beyond providing general information and publishing a few pamphlets. “Chemical dependence is a high priority with social and health agencies,” he says. “Gambling dependence is not.”

To those who argue that addiction is addiction, and that treatment programs for drug and alcohol abusers can serve chronic gamblers equally well, Dr. Lorenz has a short answer. “Wrong, wrong!” she says. “You’re dealing with an entirely different population which needs specialized treatment.” Unlike most other addicts, she says, compulsive gamblers as a group are strongly attracted to risk-taking situations, they have an exceptionally low threshold of boredom, and they manifest a peculiar dysfunction in their relationship with money. “It’s almost as if they’ve been brainwashed into thinking money can solve everything,” says Lorenz. “We’re just beginning to understand how this addiction works.”

Julie, who hasn’t found a job yet, worries about making money. Besides her and her son’s living expenses, there’s the $250 she’s supposed to be paying back to her old company every month. Prospective employers inevitably want references from her most recent job, and hers do not create much confidence. If she falls seriously behind on payments, her probation can be revoked and she could wind up in prison.

“I think I’ll be all right,” she says. “I feel like my life is slowly going uphill again. I’m regaining confidence.”

She is deeply saddened, she says, when she stops at a store and sees the line of people at the lottery machine. She wonders how many bikes and vacations–not to mention groceries–could be purchased with all that money. She wonders how many, like herself, will be sucked in way over their heads. And she considers it especially ironic that an activity so ballyhooed for its contribution to education is really teaching young and old alike that the easiest way to make your mark in this world is to hit it big in a game of chance.

Playing the Percentages

These statistics, compiled from data provided by the National Council on Compulsive Gambling, indicate some of the personal and domestic by-products of chronic gambling.

Percentage of compulsive gamblers who have seriously attempted suicide: 12

Percentage of spouses of compulsive gamblers who have seriously attempted suicide: 11

Percentage of compulsive gamblers who complain of depression: 46

Percentage of spouses of compulsive gamblers who complain of depression: 47

Percentage of spouses of compulsive gamblers who borrow money from friends and relatives to assist gambling spouse: 56

Percentage of spouses of compulsive gamblers reporting unsatisfactory sex relations: 58

Percentage of compulsive gamblers who admit physically abusing spouses: 11

Percentage of spouses of compulsive gamblers who admit physically abusing gambling spouses: 61

Percentage of compulsive gamblers who have had to drop life, auto, home, or business insurance: 36

Percentage of compulsive gamblers who also acknowledge alcohol or drug abuse: 52

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Kurt Mitchell.