New legislation allows Oregon Lottery to fund outreach ads to problem gamblers

Paul and Janet Demoret

Paul and Janet Demoret

The Portland Tribune, Feb. 18, 2014

Bingo became “a very addictive gambling gateway” for Damascus resident Janet Demoret and started all her problems.

Demoret, 47, then found video-poker machines sponsored by the state and became hooked on all their “bells and whistles.” She quickly got in a lot of debt with friends and family members.

“I call it my junkie that sits on my shoulder and keeps saying, ‘One more time’ over and over,” she said. “At the beginning, it’s more of an excitement thing, and then it becomes about pounding that button and getting numb.”

Demoret’s only luck was that she never committed crimes to support her habit. She told her father-in-law that she had misplaced $500, and then she cried, so he gave her money. By the time her husband found out about her addiction, she had taken $16,000 out of their shared bank account.

“I always curse the day that gambling got out of Nevada and Atlantic City,” said her 50-year-old husband, Paul Demoret. “This is the toughest addiction that’s out there — worse then it was for my friends who fell into methadone, oxycontin and alcoholism.”

Janet Demoret had been thinking that she’d need to open another credit card to support her habit, but then she thought that it would be much better to enter treatment, so she went for a 30-day stay at Bridgeway, the state’s residential facility in Salem for gambling addicts.

Demoret thought she had her problem licked until she went with a friend to a bar “where it seemed like everyone was winning,” and she returned to her downward spiral. Although her husband took her off all their accounts, she opened up her own personal mailbox to get more credit cards and returned to gambling.

Fed up with trying to keep her addiction secret again, she started meeting with counselors and support groups at Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare’s facility called the Clackamas Gambling Clinic, 15630 S.E. 90th Ave., the only state-approved problem-gambling treatment provider in Clackamas County, which alone had an estimated 12,000 people suffering from the illness. Since graduating from the program more than a year ago, she says she hasn’t touched a gambling machine.

Cascadia Program Manager Philip Yassenoff says his team is happy to help people like the Demorets, although he notes that many people don’t relapse once they enter treatment. He and other Cascadia counselors view relapse as a chance to learn and figure out what other steps to take to have a lasting recovery.

“The motivation to change is a complex thing,” Yassenoff said. “Some folks are motivated to change for their families, and that works for them. Other folks get to a place where they really need to own the motivation — and just do it for themselves, because the consequences of gambling have become way too high.”

A serious issue

Demoret may have erred in first attempting to treat her addiction at Bridgeway. All gambling addicts should begin treatment at an outpatient treatment program such as Cascadia and only commit themselves to a residential facility as a last resort, Yassenoff argued.

“The way gambling treatment is structured allows us to do more in outpatient treatment than most people realize,” he said. “We provide intensive outpatient treatment. The advantage of this is that clients have very regular contact with the support system we have set up. They get to follow their normal routines, and, meanwhile, they are getting individual, group and relationship counseling on a very frequent basis. This form of treatment has a solidly good track record.”

Gambling addiction is a serious public health issue, but at least treatment is free, and counselors have indentified certain ways of thinking and behavior that go along with addictive gambling. Many gamblers become increasingly isolated by trying to keep their addiction hidden.

“When they come into treatment they come to realize that the personal hell they’ve been experiencing is a shared experience,” Yassenoff said.

Just about everyone in the support group has regrets about their behavior connected to the addiction, but counselors try to expose the big picture: How can this person recover from the addiction? How can they stop gambling, make amends if appropriate, and how can they build a quality life after gambling has been so destructive?

“The path is challenging for the addictive gambler and for their significant others, but healing is very possible,” he said.

Reforms on the way?

Elected officials also are addicted to the more than $1 billion in annual revenue that state-run gambling machines bring in for schools, parks and other services. But Oregon House representatives tried to send help to addicts last week by voting to pass House Bill 4040, which will require the Oregon State Lottery Commission to adopt a comprehensive responsible gambling policy.

This policy, championed by state Rep. Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie) for years, will create an Oregon Lottery code of conduct, require lottery decision-makers to consider the best available research on gambling addiction, and will require the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Lottery to report annually to the Legislature on their problem-gambling policies.

“This bill sends a clear message that the lottery must examine the effects of its decisions on vulnerable players,” Tomei said. “My hope is that the lottery’s comprehensive responsible gambling policy will set a positive precedent for years to come.”

House Bill 4028, co-sponsored by Tomei and Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Oregon City), also passed to give the Oregon State Lottery statutory authority to use its administrative budget to advertise the availability of problem-gambling addiction treatment programs. It also instructs Oregon Lottery officials to collect data about vulnerable players and to work collaboratively with the Oregon Health Authority to lessen the harmful impacts of problem gambling.

“We’ve finally reached a point where we, as a Legislature, can start to have open and honest conversations about the negative effects of problem gambling on Oregon families and communities,” Tomei said.

Cascasdia has supported both of the bills that just passed.

“Each of these bills, in its own way, makes a statement that problem gambling is an issue worthy of prevention and treatment, and that the public can benefit from increased awareness about both responsible gambling and the treatment of problem gambling,” Yassenoff said.

Divorce, prison time common

Demoret is thankful that her husband recognized her gambling as an illness.

“He says, ‘Honey, we need to get some help,’ but he’s rare, and I know a lot of women who have lost their husbands,” she said.

Paul Demoret’s parents never divorced, so he was predisposed against cutting his wife out of his life.

“Because the suicide rate is high among gambling addicts, it was never a choice for me to leave her,” he said. “With a lot of luck, she did it on her own, and I supported her constantly, and I never had to give her any tough love. The fact that she came clean was her saving grace to me. Until they want to get help, there’s nothing you can do.”

Yassenoff says Cascadia pays special attention to the negative impacts of gambling and works diligently to build in a viable support system, deals with potential safety concerns, and offers tools that lead to recovery.

“We focus on strengths, accepting the persistent nature of the addiction, and on building a new set of skills that are not just going to help a person stop gambling — but also help them live a more meaningful life,” he said.

In honor of National Problem Gambling Awareness Month in March, the Clackamas Gambling Clinic is hosting a 5:30 p.m. event March 4 with talks by a few folks, including Demoret, who have been successfully dealing with problem gambling after their treatment.

“It’s not something I want to keep secret, because then it can get to you,” she said. “Your story doesn’t seem so awful when you hear a lot of other people were doing similar things. I think most people who are playing those machines have problems with gambling, because they just sit there with glazed looks on their faces. I go and watch them once in a while because it make me sick and keeps me from being tempted to restart.”