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Gambling Cited in Homelessness

March 13, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Norman Ambrose couldn’t stop gambling even when he landed homeless in downtown St. Paul, Minn., last month, $10,000 in debt. His last act before going to a rescue mission was to drop $100 on pulltabs at a local bar.

``I had no more control over my gambling than a wino has over drinking,″ Ambrose said Thursday.

Among homeless men, he’s far from alone, according to an informal survey at several dozen shelters around the country.

One in four people surveyed at St. Paul’s Union Gospel Mission said gambling contributed to their homelessness. Nationwide, about 20 percent of 1,100 people who responded anonymously to the survey said gambling had been a factor.

``We now have a new homeless problem that we didn’t have before,″ said the Rev. Stephen Burger, executive director of the International Union of Gospel Missions, which conducted the survey.

The survey was not done scientifically and response rates varied widely from mission to mission.

Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., president of the American Gaming Association, said the survey was a sensationalistic attempt to tarnish the gaming industry. ``The fact is that homelessness in this country is a complex issue with many facets,″ he said.

Fahrenkopf’s group maintains that less than 2 percent of the people who gamble in casinos become addicted to it. But experts in gambling addiction say it’s a growing problem and not enough is done to help the victims. A federal commission has estimated that 4.4 million Americans are compulsive gamblers.

``With the expansion of legalized gambling ... it was just a matter of time before we would see an increase of compulsive gamblers in homeless shelters,″ said Valerie Lorentz, executive director of Compulsive Gambling Center Inc. in Baltimore.

Ambrose, 46, said he spent virtually every dollar he earned buying lottery tickets or gambling in casinos.

``You have to chase good money with bad trying to get it back. When you don’t get it back you wait to the next payday and try and get it back. It’s a vicious cycle,″ he said in a telephone interview.

He left his wife in Illinois last month and lost $600 at a Wisconsin Indian casino before heading for Minnesota. Now he’s in a two-year rehabilitation program that features counseling, Bible study and job training.

Some 90 of 110 people in the St. Paul mission’s rehab program filled out the survey, which was optional, said the Rev. George Verley, who runs the facility. Nationwide the survey was conducted in 42 shelters, which assist about 5,000 people at any one time.

Barry Durman, who runs a rescue mission in Atlantic City, N.J., said little treatment is available for problem gamblers who are poor.

``The gambling addiction is one of the most insidious forms of addiction; it’s all in your head. It’s not stimulated by stuff you put in your mouth or sniff up your nose,″ he said.

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