About 100 times a month, the Mississippi Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling hotline gets a phone call from somebody in trouble.
According to counselors, the callers need help. They've gambled away their paychecks. And that's made it almost impossible for their families to live.
Just ask "Jim". For years, he had an alcohol problem. He didn't realize the spinning wheels of a slot machine would turn him into a gambling addict.
"Jim" said gambling changed him as a person. "It got to where I couldn't be trusted. I would say I was going to be somewhere, and I wouldn't be there because I was busy playing or something like that. It took up all my time."
What started in 1993 as occasional $20 visits to nearby casinos became an almost daily obsession that nearly destroyed "Jim's" life. He said the worst gambling moment was the day he walked into a casino, sat at a slot machine, "And I lost all the bill money. Money on checks that I already had written."
That day was May 17, 1997.
"Jim" remembers entering the casino with $40 in his pocket. "I started playing that $40," recalled "Jim". "The next thing I knew, I lost it. And I tried to get the $40 back. So I started chasing it with hundreds. And when I drew all the money I could get out of the checking account, I had to just sit there on a bar stool. I knew something was wrong with me. And I asked God to just let me get my money back. That's all I wanted. And he did."
"Jim's" casino players card had $40 on it. So he cashed it in. And he put that money into another machine. Somehow he won everything back.
"I'm feeling good," the addict remembered, "because I felt like I had just beat the casino. And I started walking out. And I looked around and saw this machine that looked like it was going to hit. And all I planned on putting in was $10. And then next thing I knew, I put in every penny back in there."
"Jim" went home penniless. He told his wife how he blew almost $10,000. He said that on the way home, he thought about committing suicide. It was at that moment that he decided to attend a Gamblers' Anonymous meeting. "Jim" hasn't been to a casino in more than five years.
"I almost lost the house, the car, the wife," the recovering gambler said. "And it was only because of Gamblers' Anonymous that I was able to save all of it."
If you're worried that you may have a gambling problem, jot down these phone numbers. Gamblers Anonymous can be reached by calling 864-0442. Or you can get help by calling the Mississippi Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling at 1-888-777-9696.