Winners &Losers

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Lesson 3

Powerful stuff: it seems to have come as quite a surprise to the author, Stefan Zweig, when Freud, who was a personal friend, put this interpretation to him! The essay has had a seminal influence – Freud concluded that this analysis in large measure explained Dostoyevsky’s addiction to gambling.  It is certainly very suggestive; but it can hardly be taken as the last word on the psychological motivation of gamblers – certainly not when it comes to dealing with gamblers in trouble in our own social milieu.

            Moran set out to look at the field in a broader way.  It was the heyday of casinos in Britain, following the new Gaming Act.  He collected a lot of data.  As his interest became known, numbers of gamblers in need of help were referred to him for treatment.  A majority of them he sent on to GA which seemed to provide valuable support.  And from study of these 50 or 60 cases he was able to propose a new classification of the problem.
(1) Subcultural gambling, arising from the individual’s background, which is one of heavy gambling.  (2)  Impulsive gambling, associated with loss of control and ambivalence – while longed for, it is also dreaded.  (3)  Neurotic gambling, which is a response to a stressful situation or emotional problem.  (4) Psychopathic gambling as apart of the overall disturbance in a psychopathic condition.  (5) Symptomatic gambling, in the context of mental illness, most usually due to depression.  (Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, December 1970.)
            The real point of such a classification – its categories overlap and its precise validity is, of course, open to question – was that it got away from the idea of gambling as a mental illness.  The popular term ‘compulsive’ as applied to gamblers in trouble was, in Moran’s view, quite mistaken.  In practice, gamblers turned out to be a homogeneous group of people whose common feature was that excessive gambling had resulted in economic, social or psychological disturbance.  Since none of these conditions had the characteristics of a true compulsive disorder, he argued, the syndrome was more accurately referred to as ‘pathological’.  In popular usage, ‘compulsive’ and ‘addictive’ still tend to be used interchangeably.
            He suggested that the syndrome of pathological gambling could be recognized by any of the following:

  1. Concern on the part of the gambler and/or the family about the amount of gambling which is considered to be excessive.
  2. The presence of an overwhelming urge to gamble so that the individual may be intermittently or continuously preoccupied with thoughts of gambling; this is usually associated with the subjective experience of tension which is found to be relieved only by further gambling.
  3. The subjective experience of an inability to control the amount once gambling has started, in spite of the realization that damage is resulting from this.
  4. Disturbances of economic, social and/or psychological functioning of the gambler and/or the family as a result of persistent gambling.
    1. Economic disturbances: debt, shortage.
    2. Social disturbances: loss of employment and friends, absconding from home, eviction, criminality, imprisonment, marital problems, divorce, problem family.
    3. Psychological disturbances: depression, attempted suicide, behaviour disorders in children.

Nowadays Moran would prefer the neutral term ‘problem ’ gambling.  He describes people’s gambling behaviour as on a sliding scale, ranging from nil, to light gambling , to moderate, through to heavy, up to very heavy or problem gambling.  In other words it is one of those forms of behavior in which people are liable to go to excess: not, as GA likes to see it, an ‘illness’, over which the unfortunate sufferer has no more control than a man with pneumonia is in control of his cough.  In the majority of problem gamblers, the disturbance was socially determined, as distinct from an illness arising from some individual abnormality.  Accordingly (like crime) it admits a wide variety of explanations.  Despite his own more analytical approach, -oran still felt that the fellowship GA offered to gamblers was very useful.  Over the years, he has put patients with gambling problems in touch with GA as a matter of course.
            There was also a public dimension to Gordon Moody’s work, in press conferences and so on.  The Times, in particular, was very supportive.  -oran had written a letter to the paper protesting against a crude suggestion that compulsive gamblers should undergo lobotomy; when he was contradicted a few days later by an irate sociologist, Moody fired off a heated replay in -oran’s deference.  After that little exchange The Times took a continuing interest in Moody’s views on gambling, regularly reviewing the Churches’ Council’s  reports and statements in leading articles.  Given the importance of the letters column in The Times – which serves as a kind of establishment notice-board this was very valuable back-up, even when points of disagreement arose.

            In effect Moody had emerged as spokesman for the one group of people none of the official authorities ever bothered to talk to – the gamblers themselves.  Indeed, so great was his success in persuading MPs and others to take account of the gamblers’ interests that he began to feel, light-headedly, that he was the world’s greatest political lobbyist.  When gambling was such a live issue, especially in that peak year of 1968 when the House of Commons was thrashing out the new Gaming Act, everything he said was heard and heeded: he certainly enjoyed special (and perhaps disproportionate ) influence in the public debate on the kind of reforms needed to clear up the anomalies of the unworkable legislation of 1960.  (In recognition of his contribution he got an MBE in the 1969 Birthday Honours list.)
            Moody also set about organizing a series of conferences on gambling: his idea was to bring together academics and experts, including people in the casino industry itself.  Their efforts were complementary: the churchman trying to knock some sense into people, the psychiatrists pursuing a scientific approach, the operators representing the business interest.  The purpose of such meetings was, in a word, enlightenment.  The people who attended accepted gambling as part of life; Moody himself was neither for it nor against it.  his experience was that, whenever he met someone for the first time, he always had to fight to show he was not a stereotyped do-gooder.  (One of the reasons gambling legislation goes wrong is that the people in favour of gaming have got the most money – look at New Jersey.)
            The first meeting happened to be on the day of the Grand national.  -oran’s wife Jane, whom he fondly describes as an unpredictable person, put 25 pence on a 100 to one shot.  It romped home an easy poker winner.  A writer of children’s books on social education, Jane Moran’s particular specialty is to devise little play lets for children to perform, the themes of which can then be understood and discussed by the class in terms of the drama, rather than simply as abstract ideas.  (Her cautionary tale on drugs attracted the enthusiastic notice of Mrs Reagan.)  -oran suggested that it might be useful in schools if she wrote a play let on gambling.  The result was A Mug’s Game (included in Mind Out, published by Edward Arnold, 1979).

            The story opens with the children talking about buying birthday presents for their mother.  But Tom is off to the dogs, where his friends has a hot tip:

            Tom: I lost so much at the last meeting.  I daren’t lose tonight .
            Sandy: You can’t lose if you use Pat ’s tips!
            Tom: So long as I leave enough to buy my Mum a birthday present, that ’s all.
            Pat: Listen, Tom, you follow my advice and you ’ £ double your money.

Meanwhile, back at home, his mother has come in from work:
            Mrs moore: Tom not in yet?  …If he’s gone down to the dog track again, I’ £ give him what for!
            Jill: He’ £ only be watching, Mum.  He’s too young to bet.
            Mrs moore:  Who are you kidding, Jill?  Tom just watching.  Don’t be daft!
            Ben: He’s hardly got any money to use, Mum.  He’s almost broke.
            Mrs moore: I’m not surprised! He lost enough the week before last.  He must know he’s playing poker a mug’s game.  I would have thought he’d have learnt enough from your Dad.
            Jill:  But Dad doesn’t bet any more now, does he?
            Mrs moore: No, that ’s the whole point.  At last he’s managed to stop…
            Ben: It was Gamblers Anonymous that helped him, wasn’t it, Mum?
            Mrs moore: Helped him?  They saved us all from the gutter if you ask me.  I just hope Tom won’t go and start everything up again!

            Cut to the track where, as may be imagined, disaster has struck and Tom has lost everything.  On the morning of their mother’s birthday, the other children give her their presents.  Then, enter, very quietly:
            Tom: I’m sorry I haven’t been able to …
            Mrs moore: to buy me a present ! Tom, if you think I want presents, you ’re wrong.  What I want is a happy family.  And you ’re not happy.
            Tom:  You know what happened the other night?
            Mrs moore: I can guess.  I’ve seen it all so many times before!
            Tom: I’ve learnt my lesson this time, I promise…
            Mrs moore: … If that ’s true, Tom, then you ’ve given me the best birthday present you could have done.

            After the play comes follow-up work, e.g. what do you think of Mrs moore’s attitude towards Tom ’s gambling?  Pat was a great believer in ‘hot tips’.  Why was this rather foolish?  There is then a discussion of gambling, what it is and how it works and people’s motivation.  The section concludes with a list of the Don’t of Gambling, which is a useful model for school children or grown-ups.  The first one would certainly  have saved all of us a lot of money if we had been taught it properly at poker school: Always decide upon a set limit to your total stakes.  Then DON’T exceed this amount under any circumstances. -oran’s view as a clinician is that if youngsters could be given a true idea of the ins and outs of gambling as part of their schooling, it might save a lot of blood, sweat and tears in later life.

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