BRYAN COUNTY, OK -- Casinos in Oklahoma have a list of about 11,000 people they say are no longer welcome because they have a gambling addiction. Officials say the ban is an effort to help them kick their compulsive gambling habits.
Officials from The Oklahoma Association on Problem and Compulsive Gambling say they estimate in any given population about 1.5 % of people are pathological gamblers, but in areas where a casino is located 50 miles or less that number goes up 3 %, and in Oklahoma that can mean up to 105,000 people have a severe gambling addiction.
"Mary Lou" is a recovering gambling addict. She says placing bets was all fun and games until one day addiction took hold of her.
"I guess I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time because it just hit, and when it hit it would not let go of me," "Mary Lou" said.
For seven years, "Mary Lou" says she would spend up to 18 hours straight, every day in a casino. She says even though she would be physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the day the urge to gamble was uncontrollable, but one day she realized she had to stop.
"Probably the thing that brought it to my attention the most is having suicidal thoughts," "Mary Lou" said.
Wiley Harwell with The Oklahoma Association on Problem and Compulsive Gambling says since 2004 his organization has had a contract with the Indian Nations that require the tribes to keep a list of people who are physically banned, or who ban themselves from casinos. He says about 70 addicts a month fill out a form that will prohibit them from entering most casinos in the state.
"The responsibility of staying out of the casino is yours, the problem gambler, not the tribe or the casino. They'll do their best diligence to watch for you, but there's no way they can memorize all those people," Harwell said.
Harwell says like any other addiction compulsive gambling is a serious addiction, aand sometimes people who show signs and symptoms have a hard time admitting they have a problem.
"They get in debt. They get depressed. They forego socially activity that they normally would have done, now all they want to do is gamble. They lie about their whereabouts and where the money is actually going," Harwell said.
"Mary Lou" says stopping is not as easy as saying "don't go to the casino anymore". She says to overcome the addiction you have to seek help.
"This is very serious in that you're not alone with it. There's a lot of people who did the very same things I did. It's just bizarre," "Mary Lou" said.
If you or someone you know has a gambling addiction. You can visit The Oklahoma Association on Problem and Compulsive Gambling 's website, and call their hotline number 1-800-522-4700. Also, you can visit www.gamblersanonymous.org to find a Gamblers Anonymous group near you.