State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
It is officially underway.
Most college basketball enthusiasts and casual observers are able to handle March Madness, the onslaught of the annual NCAA College Basketball Tournament. Many, unfortunately, cannot.
This is the time of year Rose Gruber’s telephone gets very busy. Gruber is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Helpline.
During 2008, the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-GAMBLE-5 received an all-time record number of calls: 12,946. The number of calls during 2008 exceeded those during 2007 by about 3,500.
During March 2008 that featured three straight weeks of intense, dramatic NCAA tournament games including 65 teams, the Helpline received 1,054 calls, a little over eight percent of the year’s total.
Gruber says the bad economy only exacerbates the problem, especially for those who are already addicted.
“People think they can get rich quick. That’s not going to happen,” says Gruber.
March Madness captures the imagination of the country for 22 days. Fans and non-fans watch the games, talk about the games, plan their schedules around the games, and they bet on the games.
"It is by far the biggest gambling event of the year," Victor Matheson, an expert on sports economics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts told the Dallas Morning News. As many as 38 million people are expected to participate in the wagering, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a job counseling firm in Chicago.
The overwhelming majority of March Madness gamblers are involved in small pools with co-workers and friends. A small percentage partakes in high roller stakes that can be very risky.
"We are aware of pools that can get up to $100,000," NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said.
The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) says, “Approximately 2%-3% of the US population has a gambling problem—that’s 6 million to 9 million Americans who may not know that their disorder has a name and that help is available."
The temptation grows as March Madness erupts, a sporting event that eclipses the popularity of the Super Bowl because it runs for three weeks as opposed to three hours. As such, it lures in more gamblers.
The NCPG has compiled a list of questions about the signs of problem gambling. It says if you or someone you know answers yes to any of the following questions, it is likely that gambling has become a serious problem:
1) Have you gambled until your last dollar is gone?
2) Have you often gambled longer than you had planned?
3) Have you lied about your gambling to friends or family?
4) Have you used your income or savings to gamble while letting bills go unpaid?
5) Have you made repeated attempts to stop gambling?
6) Have you broken the law or considered breaking the law to get money to gamble?
7) Have you borrowed money to finance your gambling?
8) Have you felt depressed or suicidal because of your gambling losses?
9) Have you been remorseful after gambling?
10) Have you gambled to try to get money to meet your financial obligations?
The NCPG says problem gambling has serious consequences:
• Trust is often the first casualty in the family of the problem gambler. Change in the behavior of the family member is often attributed to many other possible problems before gambling is identified as the problem.
• Respect for the problem gambler is generally lost once this problem has been identified. "Why can’t you just stop so the problem will go away?""You can fix this!" When the gambler can’t, respect for them is lost.
• Relationships are built on trust and respect. Without these, family relationships will be weakened or destroyed.
• Family Dynamic is dependent on each family member meeting the needs of the others. Problem gambling can destroy the ability of the gambler to do this.
• Employment can be affected in various ways. The gambler will often neglect responsibilities at work and/or develop an attendance problem as he/she begins to have less control over the need to gamble. In the worst situation, the gambler will steal from his/her employer in order to continue gambling. Any of this can lead to loss of employment and prosecution.
• Financial security for the family is often lost as the gambler seeks more and more resources with which to gamble. All of the family’s financial resources may be liquidated without their knowledge. Savings, home equity, retirement accounts, children’s savings, etc may all be lost or damaged.
• Reputations are difficult to protect as the gambling problem affects more and more aspects of the gambler’s life and become known by individuals outside of the family.
• Domestic violence may result in a family affected by a member with an addiction problem. The family of a problem gambler can be impacted just as easily as that of someone with an alcohol or drug addiction. The problem gambler may be the victim or perpetrator.
• Co-occurring disorders such as depression, substance abuse, and other compulsive behaviors often occur as a result of or along with the gambling problem.
• Children of problem gamblers have a higher probability of developing a gambling problem than those with parents who do not gamble. This follows the pattern as experienced by children of those affected by substance and domestic violence.
If you have questions, need help, or know someone who does, you can call the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-GAMBLE-5 or the National Council on Problem Gambling at 1-800-522-4700.