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Returning to the scene of the crime

Returning to the scene of the crime

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There’s a chance I could get back into the local gambling scene.

The thought of it is nauseating.

But 46 out of 48 Iowa senators who voted Monday on Senate File 204 think there’s a chance people like me can go back to the casinos and gamble responsibly. Now it’s up to the Iowa House whether to allow gambling addicts the choice of banning themselves from all state-regulated casinos for five years or for a lifetime.

Under current law, lifetime self-bans are the only option, following the adage, “Once a drunk, always a drunk.”

When I banned myself from the three Quad-City casinos in 1999, I did so because I was in trouble. I had lost much more money than I could afford to lose and had borrowed more to keep gambling. I visited one of the casinos every day.

It was the darkest period of my life.

In December 2006, I headed for Iowa City to do some shopping but took a detour instead to the Riverside Casino. I hadn’t gambled in more than seven years and figured I could handle it.

A few bucks at the blackjack table, and I’d head home. That’s not what happened. I lost a couple hundred dollars that day and learned one thing: I would never be over it.

Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, sponsored File 204, and he told me Thursday that he thinks gambling addicts are different from other addicts. He said he proposed the legislation, because one constituent said he has recovered from an out-of-control compulsion and wants another chance to roll the dice.

“This gives an individual a couple of extra bites at the apple,” Courtney said.

Though I wish his constituent well, experience tells me the apple is poison.

But I also know everybody’s different. Maybe the senator’s constituent can handle it. Maybe the woman he told me about — the one who wants to renege on her lifetime self-ban, because her controlling ex-husband made her do it — can return to the casino floor and walk out with money still in her pocket.

I cannot. At least, I can’t go back alone.

Just last week, on a road trip through parts of Missouri, I went to the Mark Twain Casino. I hadn’t been in a casino since that fall from the wagon at Riverside. This time, I wasn’t alone. A friend and I played blackjack for a couple of hours. We won a little, lost a little.

For the first time I can remember, I was ready to leave and was done gambling.

But believe me: If I had been alone, things would have been different. I’d have spent much more time reminiscing with my favorite old enemy, the video poker machine.

Mark Vander Linden, coordinator of the Iowa Gambling Treatment Program, said some gambling addicts can be trusted to go it alone.

“I don’t want to take a stance that says every person who has a gambling problem will always have a gambling problem,” he said. “In some cases, issues in their lives have stabilized, and gambling can be done responsibly and for entertainment.”

While I might argue that the next crisis could push an addict back to the same crutch, we can’t frame public policy around the possibility someone will fail. After all, self-banning is a choice, so why not add another choice to it?

We have the right to blow our money, smoke ourselves sick, drink ourselves into oblivion and eat ourselves into obesity. It may be a bleak way of looking at it, but my poor choices shouldn’t punish other people.

My gambling was my call, done with my money. It was my problem.

I cannot imagine a day or a set of circumstances where I would apply to have my lifetime ban revoked. If File 204 clears the House, however, there can be no doubt that many Iowa gambling addicts will get back in the game.

Maybe the five years of “sobriety” from the casinos will help them remember there is a way out. Maybe they will recognize the dark signs sooner and take action.

The odds are long. I wish them luck.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or


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