In May 1996, Horace Balmer, the NBA's vice president for security, had two speakers flown to Norfolk, Va., whose messages were very disturbing. The two speakers were Michael Franzese, a former mob boss who fixed professional and college games for organized crime, and Arnie Wexler, who for 23 years was a compulsive gambler. Franzere said, ''I talked to the NBA rookies earlier this season" and it's amazing how many confided to me that they have gambling habits. I'm not going to mention their names, but if I did, you would know them" I personally got involved in compromising games with players, and it all came through their gambling habits." (THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT - May 11, 1996)
Twelve years ago, as a compulsive gamblers counselor, I was asked to fly to New York to the NBA office in Manhattan to meet with league officials, players, and union officials concerned about players' gambling. I was told, "We have a problem, and we're trying to find out how bad the problem is." Officials asked me to keep my calendar open for the spring of the following year and told me they wanted me to address every team and player in the league. They then flew my wife in, and we had a second meeting. They asked us to develop questions that were going to be given to the players to answer. "We need to know how big the gambling problem is in the N.B.A," they said.
When I hadn't heard from the N.B.A, I called and asked, "When do we start?" The talks were cancelled, and the response I got was this: "They said that the higher-ups didn't want the media to find out."
Some years ago, I was on a TV show with Howard Cossell (ABC Sports Beat). The topic was: "Does the Media Encourage the Public to Gamble?' NBA commissioner David Stern said: "We don't want the week's grocery money to be bet on the outcome of a particular sporting event." Yet on Dec. 11, 2009, commissioner David Stern told SI.com (the website for Sports Illustrated) that legalized gambling on the NBA "may be a huge opportunity." I wonder how many addicted gamblers placed the first bet they ever made on an NBA game? The National Gambling Study Commission said that there are "5 million compulsive gamblers and 15 million at risk in the U.S." Forty-eight percent of the people who gamble bet on sports.
Get the real scoop: Talk to me, Arnie Wexler, one of the nation's leading experts on the subject of compulsive gambling and a recovering compulsive gambler. I placed my last bet on April 10, 1968, and have been involved in helping compulsive gamblers ever since for the last 40 years. Through the years, I have spoken to more compulsive gamblers than anyone else in America and have been fighting the injustice of how sports, society and the judicial system deal with compulsive gamblers.
Athletes may be more vulnerable than the general population when you look at the soft signs of compulsive gambling: high levels of energy, unreasonable expectations of winning, very competitive personalities, distorted optimism, and bright with high IQs. It is time for college and professional sports to outline and execute a real program to help players who might have a gambling problem. Yet college and professional sports still do not want to deal with this. They do not want the media and public to think there is a problem.
Over the years, I have spoken to many college and professional athletes who had a gambling problem. One NCAA study a few years ago reported: "There is a disturbing trend of gambling among athletes in college." You can't think that these people will get into the pros and then just stop gambling. Compulsive gambling is an addiction just like alcoholism and chemical dependency, and all three diseases are recognized by the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic and statistical manual. Nevertheless, we treat compulsive gambling differently than the other addictions. Society and professional sports treat people with chemical dependency and alcoholism as sick persons -- send them to treatment and get them back to work. Sports looks at compulsive gamblers as bad people and bars them from playing in professional sports. There are people in various sport's halls of fame who are convicted drug addicts and alcoholics, yet compulsive gamblers are unable to get into these halls of fame. In fact, as far as professional sports goes, an alcoholic and chemical dependent person can get multiple chances, whereas a gambler cannot.
If colleges and professional leagues wanted to help the players, they would run real programs that seriously address the issue of gambling and compulsive gambling. Education and early detection can make a difference between life and death for some people who have or will end up with a gambling addiction. One sports insider said to me: "Teams need to have a real program for players, coaches and referees, and they need to let somebody else run it. When you do it in-house, it's like the fox running the chicken coop. You must be kidding yourself if you think any player, coach or referee is going to call the league and say, 'I've got a gambling problem, and I need help.' "
The Wexlers run a national help line for gamblers who want help: 888-LAST-BET
Arnie & Sheila Wexler Associates
Boynton Beach. FL
Office#: 561-249-0922 cell 954-501-5270
Compulsive Gambling Addiction Help | Recovery from Compulsive Gambling by Arnie Wexler