“If I could just pass on the feeling, the experience of being free of gambling and how much better life is when you aren’t gambling.” PAT MAILHES, recovering gambling addict
SHREVEPORT — Pat Mailhes and her husband dined out to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this year — a celebration Mailhes feels lucky to have experienced after her 10-year battle with gambling addiction.
It started in 1992 with video poker. Mailhes, then a 52-year-old stay-at-home grandmother, traveled to Reno, Nev., with her husband. He became ill the day they arrived and stayed in the room during the trip.
On the first day, Mailhes visited a nearby casino.
“I thought, ‘I’ll just put a few dollars in the slot and have some fun,’” she said.
But she got the “rush” of compulsive gambling.
“I won $300, but it might as well have been 3 million as far as I was concerned,” Mailhes said.
She returned to the casino every day.
“I spent that $300 and probably $30 or $40 of my own,” she said. “That’s how it all started.”
Just more than a decade later, in 2003, and after two financial emergencies caused by her addiction, Mailhes’ husband gave her an ultimatum to find help.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back was that I acquired all of the credit bills,” Mailhes said.
“My husband bailed me out and paid off the credit cards, but I walked right back out and did it again,” said Mailhes, who said it took her six years to fall into financial crisis the first time, but only three the second time. “You don’t start over, you just pick up where you left off. We all rob Peter to pay Paul.”
From a friend, Mailhes learned about the Center of Recovery, or CORE, an in-patient facility in Shreveport’s Highland neighborhood that provides counseling and care for adults suffering from pathological gambling disorder.
“My gambling career lasted about 10 years, almost to the day,” Mailhes said. “Until I eventually came to CORE and started my journey to recovery.”
At CORE, Mailhes worked with certified addiction counselors.
“It is such a relief to know there’s a place you can go to get away,” said Mailhes, who lived at the CORE facility for 45 days while undergoing counseling and rehabilitation. “You always had that feeling, that itch. Normally, it’s all around — hard to avoid.”
At CORE, that nagging need was understood and addressed.
CORE, founded in 1998, is operated in partnership with the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling and in conjunction with the Louisiana Problem Gambler Helpline, a nonprofit call center for individuals suffering from gambling and substance addiction that operates 24/7 and has suicide prevention experts in office.
“A lot of times, people will call so overwhelmed by everything they are facing,” said Robyn Filler, the resource coordinator for the helpline.
“I enjoy it,” said Filler, who has been with the nonprofit for six years. “I like talking to people every day and trying to give them real solutions to what they are dealing with.”
Filler said the helpline reaches people in 20 states, including Nevada. The helpline, which was established in January 2000, has since fielded more than 1 million calls.
In 2011 alone, the call center received nearly 120,000 calls seeking help for substance abuse, gambling addiction or suicidal thoughts.
Filler said the helpline directs callers to the nearest place they can get help. Staffers are trained in the geography of the states they serve and can quickly find facilities in other states.
“I can say there is an in-patient facility that you can call today and talk to someone,” Filler said. “There are counselors who deal with these problems every day. When you hear the relief in their voice, it’s very rewarding.”
Local callers are given the number to CORE.
At CORE, a Louisiana resident can receive compulsive gambling counseling free of charge, while out-of-state residents must pay a fee of $6,000.
They are able to provide free service to local residents because of individual donations, government grants and private sector contributions from what many might consider an unlikely source — the casinos.
“The casinos were helpful to us in the beginning and have continued to be helpful to us, providing grants for us to help us do our work,” CORE Executive Director Reece Middleton said. “The bottom line is they don’t want problem gamblers on their property any more than we do.”
Middleton said Louisiana’s lottery and casinos donate about $2.5 million a year to help treat gambling addicts.
Still, Middleton said, budget cuts have forced a reduction to the helpline. He said the facility is always seeking donations, as well as grant opportunities.
“We have seven-days-a-week counseling, group therapy, individual therapy and family counseling,” said CORE program director Janet Miller, adding counselors can reach patients across the country. “We do telephone sessions, and we’re beginning to use Skype.”
Miller said CORE counseling is similar to other substance abuse counseling but is more individualized and often family-oriented. She said those staying at the CORE facility must work on financial and budget planning in addition to addiction therapy.
“Even many in the general population don’t live on a proper budget, so this population certainly doesn’t know how,” said Miller, who stressed CORE’s emphasis on the individual’s needs. “We try to look at the person holistically, so we are addressing things emotionally while providing an education and information.”
CORE’s residential center housed fewer than 10 patients in late September but can take up to 21.
“When I was there, I was the oldest person,” said Mailhes, who lived at the facility when it was full. “I found it really helped me in my recovery. You’re living with 19 strangers; it was a culture shock, getting to know the different personalities and backgrounds.”
Mailhes said CORE changed her life and may have saved her marriage. She now works part time as a resident manager two nights a week. She said it is difficult seeing those going through the same struggle she endured, but she has never once thought of leaving.
“If I could just pass on the feeling, the experience of being free of gambling and how much better life is when you aren’t gambling. It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t there yet,” said Mailhes, who explained it isn’t just willpower keeping her from gambling. “You have to really want it.”