Casino employee's views on gambling addiction

How much gambling is too much gambling?

There was nothing like going to work at the casino at 5:55am with my black Tim Horton's coffee and seeing people (some in a zombie-like state) there. Don't they sleep? How long have they been there? How long will they still be there? Does their family know where they are?

At what point does gambling in the casino become an addiction as opposed to being mere entertainment? Is a poker player who spends 8, 10, 12, maybe even 14 or more hours a day on the table considered an addict? High-stakes poker players can win (or lose) millions of dollars in one sitting. But for them, gambling is more or less an occupation.

Then there is the single mother who is only at the casino once or twice a week. She may only gamble for an hour. But she is gambling with her welfare cheque. What happens if she loses her entire cheque in one or two sittings? Does that make her an addict?

What about the senior citizen who comes in every day and maybe gambles only $20? They spend most of their time chatting with the staff. The casino has become a second family for them as they grow old. Would they be considered addicts?

As much as it hurt me to see these sad cases, the sadder part was that there was nothing I could do. Even though all casino staff participate in training to look for signs of compulsive gambling, there is nothing they can do to stop the gambling. The dealer can talk to a supervisor on their break, and a supervisor can notify the floor manager, but unless they cause a disturbance, "it's their money" and as an employee of the casino all I do is let the money keep coming in. And to make it worse, if they had been  gambling for sufficient time, I might buy them a juice or even a meal, just so they could stay longer, until their last penny was on our side.

The business model for casinos is to keep the people there as long as possible. The next time you are in Las Vegas, see if you can find a clock anywhere (there are clocks in British Columbia casinos for some reason).

Do you see any windows? Have you ever noticed that the exit is always hard to find, and definitely away from the cashier? Do you notice that the carpets are always a loud color?

There is a popular urban legend that casinos pump oxygen into the air so players stay awake for a longer period of time. Some casinos do have contraptions that give off a "pleasant" scent in certain areas of the casino, like an air freshener. "Normal" people would find it difficult to stay alert for more than ten hours but gamblers can stay up much longer, even with alcoholic beverages in their system. I can attest that I once spent 15 straight hours on the same poker table at Edgewater, with short breaks to take care of nature and eat a nice breakfast (thank you for the comp, anonymous poker manager). And I wasn't the only person who stayed for so long.

That is the dilemma of being in the casino industry. As a job, it can be rewarding and enjoyable. I became good friends with both players and staff. You make a more than decent wage and get to meet a lot of celebrities. But there is the other side of the coin, a side that can be sadder and more depressing as some people gamble their last coins, and others just have fun.

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