By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Pete Rose's admission that he gambled on baseball has once again focused attention on one of the most widespread and least understood vices in America.
But those who study and treat compulsive gamblers said Monday it will take more than a confession from Rose to change the perception that an addiction to gambling - as opposed to drugs or alcohol - is a relatively harmless problem.
Experts say the negative impact of gambling is not fully appreciated by an American public that pumps billions of dollars a year into the nation's gambling industry.
They say Rose is just one example of the damage compulsive gambling can do to families, jobs and bank accounts.
"Pathological gambling is really a huge public health problem," said Dr. Susan McElroy, a psychiatry professor at the University of Cincinnati who studies and counsels compulsive gamblers.
Some studies estimate that as many as 6 million Americans meet the criteria of a problem or compulsive gambler - or someone who continues to bet despite the harm it does to their lives and the lives of those around them.
McElroy said divorces, bankruptcies, drug addiction and suicides all are more common among gambling addicts.
Part of the problem, McElroy said, is that society not only condones gambling, it is making it more available than ever to the masses. Riverboat casinos and online gaming have expanded legal gambling far beyond Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
"It's never been hard to get down a bet," said Keith Whyte, executive director of the not-for-profit National Council on Problem Gambling. "Now it's easier than ever."
And as gambling has grown, Whyte said, so has the risk of gambling addiction. "The substance they abuse is money," he said. "There's never enough money for a problem gambler. There's not enough money in the world."
Some see an opportunity in the Rose case for Major League Baseball to take the lead in changing that public perception.
Ed Looney, director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling, said baseball officials should adopt new policies that expand educational programs for ballplayers and allow players with gambling problems to get treatment.
"A new policy could allow someone to get treatment, admit they have a problem and at some point get readmitted," Looney said. "We have to ask, "Do we care about the individual, or are we just worried about the integrity of the game?'"
(d) BETTING ON BALL GAMES. Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.
Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.
Gambling by the numbers
As many as 6 million Americans are considered problem or compulsive gamblers.
More than 45 percent of pathological gamblers have a history of alcohol abuse or dependence.
The "social cost" of gambling - measured in bankruptcies, lost productivity and thefts - was estimated at $5 billion in 1999.
Eighty-five percent of Americans gamble at some point in their lives.
Sixty-five percent gambled during the past year.
Source: The National Council on Problem Gambling (http://www.ncpgambling.org/) and The Archives of General Psychology (http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/).
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