Thursday marked the beginning of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But weeks before the first tip off, betting on the games was in full swing. Because of the ubiquity of gambling, March is also national problem gaming month, making it one of the most dreaded months of the year for those who suffer from gambling addiction.
According to the American Gaming Association, an estimated $9.2 billion will be spent on March Madness, the tournament’s endearing and enduring nickname. The total estimates the total of legal and illegal bets.
“March Madness, it's maddening. It's crazy! It's like a drug in their vein,” Ed Lynn, owner of the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Oklahoma City said. “We actually had our first customer fifteen minutes before we opened and we'll have to run people out of here at 1 o'clock this morning.”
But it's not all fun and games for up to five percent of gamblers who end up becoming addicts. In Oklahoma, that number equals about 200,000 people.
“70 million people are going to brackets in 50 million offices this year, so it's just a normal thing. I mean if everybody started drinking in the office you may see people having the issues with alcohol,” Travis Ernst said. Ernst is the Clinical Director at A Chance for Change in Oklahoma City.
A Chance for Change Foundation is one of only a few rehabs in the state with a program for gambling addicts. Ernst added gambling isn't like most other addictions because the fall out on loved ones can be so much worse.
“Some people will never recover…from the financial devastation that gambling has done to their lives. And the suicide rate for gamblers is way higher than any other addiction,” he said.
Ernst said an obsession with gambling, hidden gambling and unexplained money troubles can all point to a problem gambler.
He added the biggest thing a person who knows a gambler can do is be sensitive. He said someone wouldn't give a drink to an alcoholic so try to avoid talking about the tournament around a problem gambler because the temptation could be too much.