Gambling addiction, the hidden scourge

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A dealer collects chips at a roulette table in a Pasay City casino. (Reuters file)

MANILA, Philippines — Last week’s carnage at the Resorts World Manila, where former government worker Jessie Javier Carlos went on a rampage that led to the deaths of 37 persons and himself, has thrust responsible gaming — or the lack of it — to national attention.

An expert calls the compulsive gambling that authorities say afflicted Carlos as a “hidden habit” because it doesn’t readily draw attention like drug or alcohol abuse.

Psychiatrist Randy Dellosa says gamble.ng addiction “is very common” but “people don’t actually seek help for it.”

“It’s one of the more challenging addictions because, unlike drugs or alcohol (where) the effect is quite obvious and dramatic … in gambling, addicts just disappear and stay in casinos,” he said.

While admitting there is very little data on the prevalence of gambling addiction in the country, Dellosa said: “When we talk about addiction they are all the same, whether … substance addiction or process addiction — they will cause consequences on the life of the individual and the people around them, so it is equally dangerous.”

He said all addictions share the same indicators and symptoms: obsession, insatiable urge and a worsening situation.

The expert advised families to watch out for danger signs such as a fixation for games of chance and worsening finances.

However, the family of Carlos had picked up the danger signs and, in fact, requested that he be banned from casinos. Despite this, he managed to gain entry into Resorts World with an assault rifle, a pistol and a substantial supply of fuel for the fires that would lead to so many deaths.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. is investigating how this happened since Carlos is included in a national database of 450 restricted persons.

Pagcor chair Andrea Domingo admitted banning gambling addicts is not enough. They need to be rehabilitated, which she says should be the responsibility of the family — especially if it has sought a ban on an addict — since it is beyond the gaming regulator’s mandate and means.

Domingo also said Pagcor has strict measures to promote “responsible gaming” and has a code that casinos and other licensed establishments have to follow. The regulator, she adds, operates on the premise that gambling is a form of entertainment.