Gambling spiral
Bingo, lotteries main culprits

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 27/98) - Five years ago Dave Belleau could not drag himself out of from the Bingo parlor.

Most nights he burrowed himself behind 20 to 24 cards at a time in a smoky Elks hall, clinging to his dabber as a baby does a pacifier.

"It affected my efficiency at work," he says of his past as a gambling addict. "It affected my relationship with my family and I didn't care about my community."

Addiction usually starts young and often players spend huge amounts on lottery tickets such as 6/49, scratch-and-wins or pull tabs.

Belleau also cites statistics showing natives make up a majority of the three per cent of the general population that have gambling problems.

Now a gambling consultant living in Alkali Lake, B.C., Belleau is in Yellowknife this week to teach a workshop on gambling addiction to drug and alcohol counsellors at the Northern Addiction Centre.

"One key characteristic of a gambler is that they're lying," he says. "Sometimes they pawn stuff from the household and they borrow a lot."

Gambling does not always mean an illegal gaming house, such as the one which netted Wing Toon Lee a $1,500 fine.

In fact, it is gambling's socially accepted characteristic which makes addiction so easy.

"Grandma can go play and say, 'Would you rather see me drunk, or sober playing cards?'"

These kinds of responses are examples of denial, said Belleau, who at one time went $140,000 in the hole with gambling debts.

Today he has whittled the debt down to $14,000.

And there is a co-relationship between gambling and alcohol, said Belleau, who has been sober for 22 years.

He still fears straying from the sobriety path as much as falling back into the powerful gambling rush, which he likens to a heroin addict's desire for the numbing pain killer.

Gambling addicts typically have a one-track mind, talking and thinking about money -- despite being virtually penniless.

One salvation is Gamblers Anonymous, a group of addicts striving for the same goal.

Meanwhile, tonight is $7,000 bingo at the Yellowknife Elks Hall.

Tickets are $20 while extra cards are three for $5, bonanza cards $1 and lucky seven sheets of six for $6.

Elks Club president Dennis Jefferson says costs keeps him from playing bingo. "Yeah, sometimes I do see the same players here night after night," he says, fresh from telling some drunk observers to stand outside.

"We could lose money if there were only 20 people out here."

How much the Elks profit depends on the attendance. There was about 180 on Wednesday.

Jefferson further brightens the face of the practice of collecting money from compulsive patrons by stressing much of the money goes to charitable causes.

The Elks would be against any intrusion of video lottery terminals into the NWT, he adds, referring to the controversial machines that have attracted so many attention in the South.

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