About 500,000 Muscovites are expected to develop a pathological dependence on games of chance. The dependence has nothing to do with the aforementioned games, though. It is a disease, which requires psychological treatment.
According to the international classification of diseases, the condition involves “frequent repeated instances of participation in games of chance, which dominates the patient’s life and leads to a decrease in values in terms of social, professional, material, and family relations.”
The dry definition rests on thousands of misspent lives and broken-down families in different parts of the world. Now Moscow is in trouble too.
The 62-year-old Olga P. has always looked forward to pocketing her pension at the end of each month. Once she would get the money, she would go straight to a gambling parlor in the vicinity of her apartment building. She would sit quietly in the corner, watching the patrons play. Olga had a “strategy” of her own. She would keep an eye on a gambling machine that spat out the smallest winnings. “That one is going to give away big winnings soon,” she would figure out. Olga would take the chair behind the machine the second it became available. Then she would play. She was well-prepared to wait for her luck as long as it could take. She was wearing a diaper for the occasion. Yet all her attempts to strike rich would invariably end in failure. “The coin-operated bandit” would relieve her of the pension money. Two days later she had an empty fridge and a headache. She would come to her physician. “My blood pressure is jumping again, I’d be better off if you admit me to hospital for a month,” would be her typical request. About a month later she would be released from hospital, where she received free meals and some therapy. Her heart would be full of yearning as yet another month came to a close – soon she would receive her pension again.
“This behavioral stereotype is quite common among the elderly gambling enthusiasts,” says Zurab Kekelidze, deputy director of the Serbsky Institute of Social and Judicial Psychiatry.
By all appearances, the percentage of elderly patrons of the gambling industry is continuously going up, the elderly along with children and teenagers are the target groups for the industry. The people of the above categories have a larger amount of free time and a less critical approach to reasoning. It’s much easer to get them hooked on a game of chance. The gambling industry is undergoing changes at the moment, a sort of business expansion. The casino gambling is getting obsolete because of the negative stance in society on it. The industry seems to be more interested in expanding operations to entertainment and recreational facilities. The gambling machines are being installed in bowling halls and theaters,” says Kekelidze.
The phenomenon kicked off worldwide fifteen years ago. Today’s statistics look pretty alarming: from 1.5% to 2% of the world population have a pathological dependence on games of chance. Those people are in need of treatment. Yet there is another group of gambling aficionados – 6%-7% - who feel an irresistible urge to play at games of chance. They already have problems at work and in their families. Their craving is not yet pathological but a third part of them is doomed to seek professional medical attention sooner or later. Men are likely to develop a strong liking for games of chance in their early twenties, while women tend to acquire the taste in their late thirties. It takes men six years to develop dependence; women are a lot quicker on the trigger – they become fully dependent in one year. (Incidentally, the same time brackets apply to alcoholism and drug addiction).
“On the average, one person with the full-blown dependence on games of chance can mess up things relating to 15-17 persons i.e. his loved ones, friends, colleagues. He will go scheming to get more money and end up tired and broke. In the end he will spend all his time in a gaming parlor watching other people play. No family, no friends, no job,” says Kekelidze.
Experts point out that the Russians have no psychological immunity against the gambling mania. The people just cannot understand that there is no way one can beat the casino (the casino gambling would not be a highly profitable business if otherwise). Besides, in the last 15 years the people in this country watched others go from rags to riches overnight (the methods were slightly different, though), and the show made a popular belief in miracles even stronger. A beginner is still capable of holding things under control. But the defenses will certainly wear out as time goes by. Eventually, an obsessive desire for more gambling will supersede the awareness of danger.
Psychiatrists specifically stress the fact that an increase in the number of pathologically dependent patrons would be a disadvantage to the gambling industry itself. The more people go broke, the more severe restricting laws are enacted. The point is that the casinos and gambling parlors make most profits on those who come by to unwind and have fun. That piddling one a half percent stands for those who put their last ruble into a slot machine.
Unfortunately, at the moment Moscow cannot tackle the problem of dependence on games of chance. A person with gambling problem will not receive any help in a local mental hospital because doctors have just begun to familiarize themselves with methods of treatment. The latest study shows that ¾ of the senior pupils in Moscow have played at a slot machine at least once during the last twelve months. One of four young men plays more than once a month. And 1.5% play everyday.
Translated by Guerman Grachev