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With Las Vegas Casinos Closed, Will Gamblers Quit?

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Thursday, March 26, 2020   

LAS VEGAS -- Gambling is an impulse-control disorder on par with drugs or alcohol because it stimulates the brain's reward system and can be addictive.

So, what happens when a nasty virus closes your home-away-from-home?

COVID-19 has shuttered most Las Vegas casinos, which account for nearly 40% of the state's general fund revenue.

Dr. Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist at UCLA, runs a treatment program for gambling addiction, and says the closure of brick-and-mortar gambling spots means addicts will likely turn to horse racing or the lottery.

"People with gambling problems are still experiencing gambling problems, so they find online gambling, other ways to bet on sports that are still operating throughout the world, like Turkish basketball or curling," he states.

It's estimated around 2 million Americans are addicted to gambling, and the habit seriously interferes with work and social life for another 20 million.

Las Vegas, Nevada's largest city, is home to a $6.6 billion gaming industry.

Fong says risk factors that lead to addiction or make it worse include stress, emotional pain, poor sleep and trauma. He adds some people wait too long to seek help -- so if you can't shake a doomsday mentality during the current health crisis, and find you're having panic attacks or suicidal thoughts, it's time to make a phone call.

"Nevada, just like in any other state, there are gambling-support helplines, there are suicide helplines," he points out. "So, the first step for anyone in Nevada who's having and experiencing emotional pain that is not going away -- they should reach out sooner rather than later."

The National Problem Gambling Helpline is available by phone or text at 1-800-522-4700. And the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.


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