The phone line made available by the ‘Responsible Gambling’ Program, supported by Romanian Bookmakers and promoted by Casino Life & Business Magazine always helps the callers.

Leliana Pârvulescu, Psychologist

Here we meet again on the pages of this magazine. This time, I and Valentina have the story ready for you, hiding behind the words.

But…. this is the story that Valentina has written. And I am pretty sure that you will enjoy reading!

The phone was already ringing when I arrived at the office. I picked it up and for a few seconds I only heard a gasping breathing. A teenage, hormone-challenged voice asked me, ‘Are you a pscyhologist’? Please, help me, I lost all my money, am desperate, do not know what else to do to quit, have no friends, have nothing left!’

Traian tells me that he is a salesman at a diary products company in Braila. He is 36, married and has an 8-year old daughter. He started playing a few months ago on the slot machines where you win if a row of apples aligns.
It has never occurred to him to become a compulsive gambler – no one in the family has ever been a player (not even bingo or lotto) and none of his friends has such hobbies.
One summer Sunday, after a whole morning of arguing with his wife, went out around the neighborhood, to clear up his mind. She kept telling him that he is not spending enough time with their daughter, he lets her (his wife) deal with everything, that he does nothing all day. ‘My mind was just drained by the argument and the scorching heat. I walked into that room because they had a fan and some men were laughing, seemingly with no worries at all’. He stayed there all afternoon and put money into the machines – he has no clue how much. That thing did not matter, after all. But what really mattered was that he could be there by himself, with his thoughts, even though surrounded by people. Most of them were happy and noisy. When one of them was feeding the machine, other five were standing behind him and cheering him up. The moment someone was given a free game, you could hear a ‘good job, bro’ in that small and clogged room (a Xerox place during the day).

He was among people but yet he did not have to talk to anyone. He could simply sit there and have no one look asquint at him. Whenever he won, he liked watching how the fruits on the screen were ordering themselves and hearing the jingle, the sound of success. At first, he did not give very much thought about money, even though money was a constant feud between him and his wife. This is not why he was going there, to make money, but to stay away from home. And he was a bit happy when he lost – he was again arguing with his wife and imagined that his loss would irritate her terribly. He wished he had been caught, to hurt her and take his revenge.

In less than two months, he was already hooked up. He could not wait to walk into the gambling room – it was just a block away from home. The ambience there was indispensable to him and he felt that it was the only place where he could take a break away from family, job and other duties.
Soon enough, he started losing more and more money, thus he would play more often to keep it balanced. Of course, his problems swelled even more.

This is what he remembers: It is November 2013. Traian is in the gambling room, as he is every day after work. His daughter calls him. He thinks for a second whether to answer – it could be his wife, trying to find him, as it has happened before. He picks up and the child starts explaining, in a serious voice and while rolling her r’s, that her class will have a trip in two weeks and she would love to go as everyone else in the class does and because they have only been in the countryside that year and, plus, she has straight A’s. Her father promises her to let her go. That evening, he would put the money in the wardrobe, promising himself not to touch it. The next day, he takes it and loses it to the slot machines.
He borrowed money a few times from relatives and friends until he succeeds to send his daughter on the trip – he would spend the money every time it was lent to him. He was then burdened with shame and guilt and took a one-week break from gambling.
His relation with his wife, still very tense, would become worse, as he was hiding from her a lot. He always had to make up excuses for the time he spent elsewhere and the money that was vanishing. Other relatives did not know what was going on, but they stopped lending him money. At work, he was taking more and more days off or would find excuses for being late, just to spend more time in the gambling room. He was given a rebuke from his superiors and a written warning – another moment when he stopped playing for a few days.
After six months since he started pursuing his hobby, his ulcer condition had become worse, as he was eating hurry-scurry. He was drinking and smoking more while he was going deeper into his addiction.
Little by little, everything turned into a whirlwind, where the feelings of guilt, shame and depression were feeding his addiction and viceversa.
For Traian, his desire to escape from the unpleasant reality and to punish his wife made him walk into a gambling room. This desire was his main reason, which turned into a copping strategy by avoiding.
This means that, in an overwhelming situation, you focus on an activity of distraction – physical or mental – and you can reach a better state of mind for a short period of time, without having a definite solution to the main issue.

The slot machines are in fact a good means to elude the reality – the lights and the sounds of the machines keep your attention concentrated in one point and the activity is repetitional and continuous.
When the amounts increased and things got off his hands, Traian kept on playing to make the money he had lost before. This is the usual trap where gamblers fall into – they live with the illusion that they will be able to completely erase the loss and have profit after all, if they continue playing.

Some addicts play just to be in control. No matter how paradoxical it may sound, they are trying to make sense out of a situation that only depends on hazard, due to its nature. They come up with various rituals (to insert money three times in a row, to play only during certain times of the day, not to gamble after arguing with a beloved person, etc).

And it is not enough for the above to function once so they will be convinced that they are still in control. Very many young people, gain-motivated, believe that they will cut themselves off their families and carve a way in life if playing for a while.

Irrespective of age, loneliness and boredom play an important role in the decision that some people take to start gambling.
Those rooms are a securing social environment for those who feel the need to belong to a community; they create the illusion that they are part of a social group. Most addicts feel like home in the gambling room or in a casino – they go there to relax and consider the other players to be their friends.

People are still highly reluctant to go to the psychologist for anything that would bother them, let alone when there is something about a certain social stigma.

The person calling the helpline usually is after quick and efficient solutions, just to get rid of their addiction. This is essential to understand that letting go of your vice is a whole process.
If the geographical distance or other reasons stop you from turning to a therapist, you can actually exert your self-control in baby steps. For example, you can set a fixed amount that you are allowed to spend when gambling – or you can play if you are left with money after paying everything related to your house and family. Another way of managing the pathological gambling is to limit your time spent in the gambling room or in the casino. Should you decrease the frequency from daily to three times a week, gambling can only become a hobby along the line. And during the time you gain, you can find other activities to keep you busy: spend time with your family, visit places, go fishing, etc.

After more than an hour of talking to him, Traian’s voice sounds more mature. He pauses for a second and takes a deep breath, as if he patted himself to cheer him up. ‘I will tell my wife about it, she is not a bad girl at all and maybe she will help me go through this.’

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