General Articles

Mad About Gambling

Why do sane people become horse happy, dice daffy or card crazy? It’s a neurosis, psychiatrists say — a disease that can be cured

GEORGE KISKER September 1 1948
General Articles

Mad About Gambling

Why do sane people become horse happy, dice daffy or card crazy? It’s a neurosis, psychiatrists say — a disease that can be cured

GEORGE KISKER September 1 1948

Mad About Gambling

Why do sane people become horse happy, dice daffy or card crazy? It’s a neurosis, psychiatrists say — a disease that can be cured


EVERY Friday night a skilled worker in a Toronto plant turns over most of the money in his well-filled pay envelope to a bookmaker. This has been going on for years. The bookmaker has come to accept this weekly one-way transaction as his due and the worker, who is unmarried, has learned to do without such things as a good suit of clothes and a medical operation for a minor but vexing ailment.

This man, who represents an extreme case of gambling fever, is but one of thousands of Canadians who last year probably spent half a billion dollars gambling on horse racing, roulette, barbotte, card and dice games, lotteries, gin rummy, football, hockey, baseball and other sporting events.

Early in July of this year, Police Chief Ralph Guy of Dearborn, Mich., uncovered a five-million-dollara-year gambling ring in the Ford plant. More than 600 Ford employees were operating as writers, pickup men and runners for a “numbers” syndicate. “Some of the workers,” declared Police Chief Guy, “frequently gambled away their entire week’s pay without ever leaving the foundry.”

The gambling at the Ford plant is duplicated on a lesser scale in many factories, offices and stores throughout Canada and the United States. In the United States alone, more money is gambled every 30 days than has been appropriated for the year for the entire European Recovery Program.

It’s a Disease

BEFORE they were married Bob Cartwright liked to take his girl Jenny to the race track. He used to kid her about the way she picked horses to bet. She formed sudden attachments to horses regardless of their form or odds on the basis of their jockeys’ silks or the way they tossed their heads. Bob stopped kidding her when, by a fluke, she picked six winners this way one day.

After they were married (Jenny picked the minister because she thought his curly hair was “cute”) Bob found out that his wife was spending most of her time and a good deal of the family’s money at the race t rack or a nearby bookie’s. They went into debt and quarreled over his wife’s unfortunate preference for making bets instead of apple pies.

Bob went to a lawyer who advised him that divorce was no answer to his problem and directed him to a pyschiatrist. The doctor told Bob gambling fever is a disease, one of the diseases that can be cured.

America’s leading authority on gambling as a disease is Dr. Edmund Bergler, a prominent New York psychiatrist. Dr. Bergler supports the widely held theory that the “chronic” gambler is suffering from a deep-seated personality disturbance. “This type of gambler is a neurotic,” explained Dr. Bergler. “People who gamble incessantly don’t do it because they want to. They do it because they

can’t help themselves. They have an unconscious need to gamble.”

Not everyone who gambles is a “gambler,” according to Dr. Bergler. When you play bingo in your church basement, you are gambling but you are not necessarily a gambler. Nor are you a gambler when you bet a dollar on the outcome of an election, or when you match coins with a friend to see who will pay for a meal.

“We don’t call a person a drunkard if he takes a cocktail before dinner,” declared Dr. Bergler. “And we don’t call a man a gambler if he plays an occasional game of poker, drops a few coins in a slot machine or places a bet on the Derby.”

And, strictly speaking, the professional who runs a game and takes a percentage rather than buck for his livelihood is not a gambler in this meaning.

The real danger is “neurotic” gambling, the type of gambling that often leads to crime, suicide or the poorhouse. You are a neurotic gambler if you gamble more often t han you should, if you bet more heavily than you can afford and if you don’t know

when to stop. A neurotic gambler was rebuked for wasting time playing cards. “Yes,” he admitted, “there is a lot of time wasted in shuffling the cards!”

Back to Childhood

DR. SIGMUND FREUD, one of the greatest psychologists the world has ever known, believed that gambling for some jjeople is a substitute for infantile self-gratification. “Gambling in the adult,” explained Dr. Freud, “is the same as thumb-sucking in the little boy. In both cases, the hands are used for excitement and pleasure.” The infant gets an intoxicating pleasure from sucking his thumb; the gambler gets a similar pleasure from dealing and shuffling cards, handling chips, rolling dice and placing bets on a roulette table.

Even the thinking of some gamblers goes back to a primitive and infantile level. Gamblers go to ridiculous and childish extremes in their gambling habits. They indulge in all sorts of “magic,” superstit ions and ritualistic

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Mad About Gambling

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procedures. One gambler insists on changing bis seat when luck runs against him. Another gets up and walks around bis chair. Still another believes that be can win only as long as lie keeps bis bat on. Some gamblers must wear certain articles of clothing or carry good-luck charms. One man carried a tiny toy elephant. Another kept a piece of dried orange peel in his pocket !

Psychiatrists, who seem to share an old horse player's fondness for charting behavior and performance, have their own classification of the gamblers they have identified in their research. There is the infantile type mentioned above who gets much simple pleasure from riffling the cards and bearing the dice click.

There’s also the gambler who has flushes of the fever but is neither infantile nor world-weary and emotionally corrupt. These sometime-gamblers get pleasure and relaxation from their games of chance which are played for mental stimulation different from the kind they get at the office or the shop.

But since this article is mainly con-

cerned with the kind of plunger who can’t take a chance or leave it alone, let’s look at some of them.

There’s the exhibitionist (probably got t hat way by winning all the time), the aggressive gambler (this is the one who says with a crooked smile, "And up five just to keep the children out”), the sadistic gambler (“ You’re not having much luck are you?”), the submissive gambler (“Yes, dear. I’ll be right home”), the guilty gambler (“I feel like a heel, fellows, taking all this money, fellows, honest, I do”) and the kibitzer about whom no other gambler can trust himself to speak.

There’s probably a little of all these characteristics displayed by most gamblers, but where one trait becomes uncomfortably predominant there is usually a deep-seated personality maladjustment.

The exhibitionist type is a show-ofi. He likes to display large rolls of money, be talks in a loud voice and he wears flashy clothes to attract attention to himself. The excessive gambling at summer and winter resorts is explained in part by this exhibitionism. Many people go to such resorts simply to show themselves off. Gambling heavily is one method of feeling important. When you gamble recklessly or for

high stakes, people watch vou and talk about you. This satisfies a childish need to feel important.

How can we account for this flight back to childhood? The answer is that the gambler is making an unconscious attempt to regain the lost feeling of omnipotence that he had as an infant. He reverts to the infantile level because he hasn't found satisfaction and securitjr in his adult life.

The aggressive type of gambler is hostile and rebellious. The rebellion may appear to be against fate and logic. But deep down, this hostility has another meaning. It symbolizes, a University of Chicago psychologist says, aggression and rebellion against the authority of parents, even though the gambler’s parents may no longer be living.

The sales manager for a large tire company is a bachelor who earns more than $10,000 a year. Last year he lost so much money playing gin rummy that he was broke every month. He wanted to stop gambling. But he couldn’t seem to do it. Finally, he went to a psychiatrist.

In a few weeks, the psychiatrist found out what the trouble was. “The reason you gamble,” the psychiatrist told him, “is that you are protesting against the strictness of your parents.” The young man looked amazed. “But my parents have been dead for almost 10 years,” he said. “That is exactly the point,” answered the psychiatrist. “When your parents died, you repressed your feelings of resentment. You pushed these feelings back into your unconscious mind. You refused to face them. Your excessive gambling is nothing more than this resentment coming to the surface in a disguised form.”

The most extreme form of aggressive gambling is the sadistic type. Such gamblers are ruthless. They are completely without sympathy for their victims. The more they win, and the more desperate their opponent’s circumstances become, the better they like it. “I become exhilarated,” admitted a gambler of this type, “when 1 win everything a man has. 1 know I shouldn’t feel this way. But the more my opponent loses the better I feel. 1 seem to get pleasure from hurting him.”

The submissive type of gambler reacts in a different way. Male gamblers of this type unconsciously want to be overwhelmed. They usually have strong feminine feelings. When they gamble they use all the typical tricks of losing. They don’t stop when their luck is running in their favor. They force the game when they are losing. They make mistakes by overlooking chances to win. “This type of gambler,” declared Dr. Bergler, “might just as well hand over his money before the game begins.”

Behind the Bluff

Gambling is a form of sexual pleasure for gamblers of this type. Being overwhelmed at the gambling table is a substitute for being overwhelmed in the love relationship. One of the assistant editors of a New York fashion magazine was a brilliant, girl, but the men didn’t find her attractive. So she turned to gambling for excitement. She gambled recklessly and for high stakes. Ana she always lost. Losing was the same as giving in. When this young woman finally married a man who loved her, the gambling habit disappeared.

One type of submissive gambler tries to cover up by bluffing. The gambler who does a lot of bluffing when he plays poker is a man who does a lot of bluffing in his everyday dealings with

people. Bluffing is an attempt to get by and to appear that you have more than you really have. It. makes it possible for the little man to appear big. Actually, it is a symptom of inadej quacy and insecurity. Of course, any j player from a Thursday-night, poker j club will tell you that an occasional bluff is necessary unless you're going to put the party on for your friends.

A large number of neurotic gamblers are of the guilty type. These are the men and women who feel the need to be punished. Dr. Bergler believes that this type of gambler has an unconscious wish to lose. Losing is a form of selfpunishment. It helps the gambler to get rid of his feelings of guilt.

A young advertising executive in Los Angeles had a beautiful wife, three attractive children and a lovely home. But his job kept him out of the city most of the time. Early last January he was offered a job in the office, hut he turned it down, even though it meant that he could he with his wife and children. He told himself that his job on the road had a better future.

A few weeks after he turned the job down, he began to gamble and lose heavily. “My luck will change,” he told himself. But his luck dicin'! change. He couldn’t understand why he lost so consistently. A psychologist j could have told him that he lost because he was punishing himself for not taking the job in the office. The real reason he turned the job down was that he no longer wanted to be with his wife and children. He felt guilty about this. And he turned to gambling as a form of self-punishment.

Another gambling type is the kibitzer. Such people are gamblers who don’t have the courage to gamble. The kibitzer experiences some of the excitement of the game but avoids the risk of losing. Professional kibitzers would never think of gambling themselves. But they are always found where gambling is going on.

The Thrill Is Everything

Every gambler experiences a thrill or tension when he makes a bet. It is a feeling you have between the time the bet is made and the outcome of the game or race. “The thrill of gambling,” ! declared a psychiatrist at the University of California, “is a form of psychological tension which combines pleasure and pain. It’s like pressing on a sore j tooth. The more you press, the more it hurts. But you keep on doing it.”

If your life is highly emotional you are more likely to feel the need to : gamble than if you lead a calm, undisturbed life. This is why soldiers, sailors, politicians and actors play for high stakes. During the war there was a tremendous amount of gambling among the servicemen. Many of these men had never gambled before entering the service. What liad brought about the change? It was the fact that the men were living in a dangerous situation their lives were at stake and they couldn’t afford to lose. In order to escape from the real danger, they substituted gambling as an artificial danger. Here, they put up something they could afford to losetheir money!

“If you take away the tension of gambling,” explained Dr. Bergler, “you destroy the pleasure.” A machinist in one of the Detroit automobile factories gambled at every opportunity. Wherever he went and whatever he did he managed to find some way to gamble. One day, he heard of a gambling game in which he could always win as long as he followed a simple rule. He tried the system and, sure enough, he won every time. But after playing the game a few times, he gave it up. The knowledge that he was

sure to win took away all of the thrill for him.

Even the professional gambler feels this tension and excitement. Dr. Bergler insists that there is no such thing as a calm gambler. People don’t gamble unless they feel the neurotic excitement that goes with it. The gambler who appears calm and unexcited is assuming a disguise. Underneath, he is as emotional about his gambling as anyone else.

Some people gamble without knowing it. “I never gamble,” declared an executive of a large department store. “As a matter of fact, I don’t approve of it. People would be better off if they didn’t gamble so much.” Yet this same man was a heavy plunger in the stock market. He didn’t consider this to be gambling. “Playing the stock market is business, not gambling,” he argued. It is for some people, but for him playing the market was a way of satisfying his neurotic aggressiveness.

Not all stock-market speculation is neurotic. Nor is all gambling a sign of maladjustment. You aren’t a “problem” gambler unless you have an overwhelming and uncontrollable urge to gamble which grows out of some deep-seated personality conflict. Women who play for small stakes when their bridge clubs meet, men who play the stock market on a sound and businesslike basis and even professional gamblers, who carefully and systematically play the percentages, are exhibiting perfectly normal types of behavior. It’s only when you are more interested in the gamble than in the game that your gambling becomes abnormal.

Gambling has always been a serious problem— (he oldest religious and legal documents condemn it. Yet there is ' more gambling today than there ever was. If you are like most people, gambling may never do you any harm. Rut for thousands of men and women gambling means misery and unhappiness for themselves, their friends and their families.

Neurotic gamblers are sick people. They need treatment. But treatment is difficult. The true gambler does not realize that he is a sick person. He has no insight into his situation. He doesn’t think there is anything wrong with him. And he has no desire to change.

Even after he has lost his last dollar, the neurotic gambler is thoroughly ! convinced that if he had another dollar I his luck would change. Ho doesn’t regard his winnings a.; something that have corne about by chance. “He con; aiders his winnings,” commented Dr. Bergler, “as a down payment on his

contract with fate to win permanently.”

You can’t cure a gambler until he is willing to admit that there is something wrong. Dr. Bergler has treated more gamblers than any other psychiatrist in America. He has found that the success of treatment depends upon the type of the gambler and upon the amount of guilt that the gambler feels. Gamblers with feelings of guilt that are not satisfied by losing, and gamblers with strong feminine feelings are the easiest to cure.

A gambler can’t be cured by giving him medicine or by telling him he is a naughty boy and mustn’t do it any more. The only way to cure him is to get at his emotional conflicts. It’s necessary to find out why he needs to gamble.

Sometimes you gamble because of something that happened to you when you were a child. You have probably forgotten about it. But you can’t get rid of your gambling fever until you find out what is causing it. This requires the services of a psychiatrist or a psychologist. He may have to talk to you for many hours. He will try anything that helps him understand your inner life.

One psychiatrist decided to try hypnosis. He used drugs to put his patients into a mild hypnotic sleep. When they were hypnotized he told them, “You will never want to gamble again. Gambling won’t appeal to you any more. When you awaken you won’t feel like gambling.” These suggestions were given to the patient every day for several weeks.

For a while it looked like the treatment would be successful. The patients immediately stopped gambling. But the cure didn’t last long. After a few weeks the gambling urge returned. The hypnotic treatment didn’t remove the real trouble. All it did was to repress the urge.

“I am still using hypnosis,” explained this psychiatrist, “but I use it in a different way. I no longer tell the patient that he will stop gambling. I merely use hypnosis to explore his unconscious mind. It makes it easier for me to discover the emotional conflicts that are causing the gambling.”

If you want to rid yourself of the gambling urge—or if you want to cure someone in your family—talk it over with a specialist in personality problems. He will tell you that if you reailv want to stop gambling it can be done. It may take a long time. And it may be expensive. But it won’t be nearly as expensive as spending the rest of your life trying to pick long shots, trying to fiil inside straights or trying to hit three bells on the slot machines.