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October 21, 2014

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Gambling addict’s misery detailed

Ron Cordes knew he needed help with his gambling addiction the day he pulled out a loaded pistol and considered using it to take his own life.

Cordes, who practices family law and personal injury law with the law firm of Webster and Kahle in Las Vegas, shared his account of his plunge into gambling and alcohol addictions before about 150 counselors, therapists, social workers, nurses and mental health professionals Friday during a seminar at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The seminar, "Addiction Issues: The Relationship between Substance Abuse and Problem Gambling," was sponsored by UNLV and the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

Carol O'Hare, executive director of the council, said Friday's session, which featured presentations by researchers and problem gambling clinicians, was one of the best attended seminars presented on the topic. She attributed that to good communication between UNLV and local professionals as well as greater awareness that problem gambling represents addictive behavior.

While clinician and training consultant Kevin O'Neill was a highlight among the clinical presenters with his warning that Internet gambling could make it easier for problem gamblers to play, it was the keynote presentation by Cordes that put a face on the relationship between excessive drinking and gambling.

"I was sure I had a drinking problem," Cordes said, "but I was not sure I had a gambling addiction."

He admits now that he discovered he had problems with both, even though he found nothing wrong with pulling $750 out of his savings account in the morning, playing slot machines while nursing a few beers through the day and ending up losing it all after consuming 12 or 13 bottles of beer.

"From about 1996 to 1999, I did everything I possibly could to gamble everything I had," Cordes said.

He eventually was suspended from practicing law, sought counseling and attended Gamblers Anonymous meetings. But he didn't turn the corner until the day he pulled out the gun and placed it on his bed. A family member helped talk him out of suicide.

"I realized I had to change," Cordes said. "I knew I had to make some drastic changes in order to effect the GA (Gamblers Anonymous) program. My gambling fed my drinking and I knew I wasn't telling the truth when counselors asked me questions about my habits."

Cordes said Family Court personnel, who see addictive behavior at work in their cases on a regular basis, helped him and encouraged him to stay in the legal profession. He joined Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, an organization that provides assistance to legal professionals with mental health and substance abuse problems.

Persons in attendance applauded Cordes when he said he was readmitted by the State Bar to practice in July. He said he still attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings once a month, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers meetings once a week and is in aftercare treatment with Trimeridian Inc., a clinic that administers gambling treatment programs, every other month.

While Cordes found trouble with gambling in traditional "bricks and mortar" casinos, presenter O'Neill believes the easy accessibility of gambling on the Internet could produce a while new generation of compulsive gamblers.

O'Neill, who maintains a private practice and a consulting firm in Allentown, N.J., said although gambling online is illegal in the United States, he suspects a widespread problem because anecdotal evidence suggests that many people gamble on the Internet not knowing it is illegal or not caring because the government hasn't been prosecuting players.

He called for additional research into the real effects of Internet play on compulsive and problem gamblers, additional awareness of the problem by criminal justice and mental health professionals and better responsible gambling policies and links to help centers by the online casinos operating offshore.

O'Neill said Internet gambling is a natural fit for compulsive gamblers because it provides action and escape for players. He said technology will change betting habits, just the way slot machines, keno, scratch-off games and lotteries have changed the gambling industry over time.

The gambling industry and the Internet are two of the fastest growing businesses in the world, he said, and young Americans are joining their older contemporaries as potential customers.

"But isn't Internet gambling illegal?" one clinician asked O'Neill.

"I think most people perceive that it is," O'Neill said, "but the response from the players is, 'Who cares?' And they are absolutely right. Very few people care. The Justice Department won't even prosecute it."

O'Neill said the media have produced thousands of stories about Internet gambling, broadening its reach. The most popular form of online gambling is betting on sports, he said, because bettors can watch the outcome of the games and know whether they should be paid.

O'Hare, the executive director of the Nevada council, equated the Internet to the advent of high-speed trains.

"We're narrowing the gap between the person and the activity," she said. "We're narrowing the distance to access the (compulsive) behavior."

She said the accessibility of gambling has gotten easier with its availability on a home computer. The only way it could get closer, she said, could be just around the corner as technology enables access to the Internet from hand-held devices and cellular telephones.

"Part of battling addiction is putting up barriers and we're actually reducing the barriers," she said. "We were going 10 miles an hour (toward addictive behavior). Now, we're able to go 100 miles an hour."

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