The psychology of gambling addiction

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 05 2017 05:21 PM | Updated as of Jun 05 2017 07:00 PM

Dealers check gaming cards inside a casino in Manila. Noel Celis, AFP/File Photo

The Philippines was once again thrust in the spotlight last week when a man went amok inside the Resorts World Manila complex in Pasay City, firing his assault rifle and setting casino tables afire, killing dozens due to suffocation.

Authorities over the weekend identified the suspect as Jesse Javier Carlos, a dismissed government employee who was deep in debt due to casino gambling.

Carlos was sacked for gross misconduct and neglect of duty in relation to his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), and his parents said his gambling had also caused problems for his family.

THE THRILL IN GAMBLING 

Gambling addiction, according to a renowned Filipino psychologist, is often a "well-kept secret," with its symptoms not as obvious as in drug addiction. That changes, however, when the person is "totally desperate already." 

Dr. Honey Carandang, a clinical psychologist, said it is usually the thrill of the possibility of getting "a big amount of money in a short period of time" that hooks a person to gambling.

"First, you’re just innocently playing and then you win and then you lose and then you win. The nature of it is, hindi mo alam kailan ka mananalo, so you try and try," she told ANC's Headstart.

"Saka mananalo ka kung minsan, minsan natatalo ka. In psychology, it’s called intermittent reinforcement...Ibig sabihin, yung reward comes unpredictably and you realize that sometimes, you think baka ngayon ako manalo; di ako nanalo, so baka bukas. You always try kasi dumadating yung reward, hindi mo alam kung kailan," she added.

Addiction, explained Carandang, is compulsive—"hindi mo ma-resist, hindi mo matiis, hindi mo mapigil..kasi na-hook ka na."

Unlike drugs which cause a chemical change in one's body, the high in gambling is achieved when one wins. 

"Yung addiction dun, yung thrill na nanalo ka; ang dami mong pera, nanalo ka, so you get a high—so you look for that high again and again. That’s addicting," she said.

Carandang added that although Carlos was not exactly a high-roller—a government employee with a meager income who lived in Sta. Cruz, Manila instead of in an exclusive subdivision—the high of growing his money quickly remained the same.

"It doesn’t really matter that much because pag nag-take ka ng chance, even if you don’t have much money—nag-take ka ng chance, nanalo ka, kunyari naging P200 yung P20 mo, laking bagay nun, pwede ka nang ma-hook," she said.

BEYOND REASON, LOGIC

Apart from identifying Carlos, authorities also released over the weekend the CCTV footage of his attack at the casino resort complex. 

In it, Carlos is seen forcibly entering the chip bank room and taking P113 million worth of high denomination chips.

This fact has boggled the minds of many since logic would dictate that the gambler would want to use these chips inside the casino or encash them. Carlos, however, decided to douse himself in gasoline and burn himself minutes later. 

Carandang explained that it may be because Carlos reached the dead end and was already desperate.

"Hindi ba, pag nasa dead end ka na, wala ka nang gagawin? Like in suicides, when you reach the dead end, wala ka nang pupuntahan, so the only way to end it is to act on yourself, kill yourself," she said.

"I think this guy was already desperate to a point that he lost all logic, he lost all reason and maybe he intended really to end it all," she added.

Although authorities, including the Resorts World Manila management, tagged the suspect as "deranged," Carandang said that description is an accurate description of Carlos "for that moment." 

"He might even be acting as a normal person kasi ang mga gambling addicts, they are normal—they act normal outside of the gambling situation," she said.

INTERVENTION

Carandang said, of all the patients she has had in connection with gambling addiction, the account of how the family's relationship has been affected is always "heartbreaking."

In Carlos' case, his wife had actually requested the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to bar the suspect from all of the casinos it regulates about a month before the night of the shooting.

Carandang said it's important for people to notice someone's gambling addiction early and try to intervene immediately.

One of the first indications to look for, she said, is if something goes missing at home--no matter how small.

"Usually, they will sell things kasi usually and almost always, sa gambling, akala mo, nanalo ka—90 percent, 99 percent nananalo, but pinapatalo mo ulit," she said.

There will also be noticeable changes in behavior, said Carandang, that should ring alarm bells.

"Bakit bigla-biglang gabing gabi na ito umuuwi? Merong change. You have to be tuned in to a drastic change in behavior...Pag may sign na na iba, pasok ka na kaagad, usap na," she said.

Apart from the "internal" help, Carandang also appealed that there be changes in the structure, citing a glaring difference between the booming gambling industry in the Philippines and the one in Macau.

"In Macau, they have what you call gambling addiction counsellors around the casino already...They already have groups who are counsellors for gambling addiction in the vicinity and somewhere where people would know where to go," she said.

PAGCOR, for its part, reiterated its stand against gambling addiction, and said it has setup a 24/7 hotline to assist those who wish to be rehabilitated from their gambling problem.

The regulator also said minors and known addicted gamblers are denied entry to gaming centers.