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Study: One Million Californians are Problem Gamblers

It's no secret that casinos lead to gambling. But a new study out this week on problem gamblers may end up sparking debate over whether gaming in California should be curtailed. Full Focus Reporter Am

It's no secret that casinos lead to gambling. But a new study out this week on problem gamblers may end up sparking debate over whether gaming in California should be curtailed. Full Focus Reporter Amita Sharma has details. The neon flashes of casinos throughout this state are proving too enticing for people prone to addictive behavior to ignore. The results of a survey called the "gambling prevalence study" showed that almost one million Californians are problem gamblers.

California has become a gambling hub with almost 60 Indian casinos, the highest number of any state outside Nevada. For retired engineer, Jerry Berger gambling is recreation. The 69-year-old visits the Viejas casino in Alpine four days a week and gambles with a couple of thousand dollars each time.

Jerry Berger: This is my budget for recreation. I don't play tennis. I don't go skiing. At my age, the only other thing I do is go on cruises. This is part of my entertainment budget. There are days when I feel, `gee, I've lost too much and then I'll cut back but I feel that the entertainment value I get is worth the money that I might lose here in a day.

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Berger says the most he's ever lost is just under $2,000. The most he's won is $100,000 in one day. He doesn't think he has a gambling addiction but there are times when he reflects over whether visiting the casino is the best use of his time.

Berger: We moved down to San Diego so that we could go to La Jolla and go to the restaurants. I used to play volleyball at the beach. I don't do that anymore. Now the easy thing is when I'm not busy like doing my taxes or working in my backyard is to say, `ah let's go to the casino instead of oh let's go to the movies or let's go to the restaurant in La Jolla or whatever. It's easy to come here so it shuts out some of the more well-rounded activities that I enjoy.

Indian tribes say they've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help chronic gamblers. Bobby Barrett is chairman of Viejas tribal government. Their casino is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. He says his casino workers are trained in spotting habitual gamblers.

Barrett: Our manager pulls them off the floor, interviews them. Our manager makes sure they are a problem and they are either self-excluded or we exclude them for a lifetime.

Psychotherapist David Peters says there are numerous signs of a gambling addiction.

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Peters: If it's costing your personal relationships, there's a problem. If you're spending money that you don't have and bills are stacking up, you're a problem gambler. If you're finding you're getting over depression or a slow boredom you're getting out and gambling, that's an indication that there's a problem. Anytime, it's becoming an interference in your life and you still go on, even though it's costing you, then you know there's a problem going on.

And Peters says gambling addiction should be treated with talk therapy and group counseling. And like all addictions, the most important part of the treatment is acknowledging that a problem even exists.