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‘Hidden addiction’ afflicts thousands

‘Hidden addiction’ afflicts thousands
‘Hidden addiction’ afflicts thousands
Randy Fessel

Through his police training, Corydon’s Randy Fessel knew the warning signs of alcohol and drug addiction.
‘When someone has a drinking problem, you often see them being served and you can smell the alcohol on their breath,’ he said. ‘If they are addicted to drugs, the body gives that away,’ often by the tell-tale signs of needle marks, uncleanliness and other clues, depending on the drug of choice.
But there’s another addiction ‘ Fessel calls it the ‘hidden’ addiction ‘ that, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, afflicts an estimated 40,000 Hoosiers.
‘How big of a problem is it?’ Fessel asked. ‘You never know.’
But he knows. He’s one of them.
Fessel, 37, said his earliest recollection of ‘gambling’ was buying a 25-cent pull tab and winning $25. Then, in 1989, the Indiana General Assembly ratified the Lottery Act. During his 10 years as a Corydon marshal, Fessel bought numerous lottery tickets at food marts.
Next, riverboat casinos were legalized. That’s when Fessel’s money began floating away.
He traveled frequently to Evansville, to gamble on Aztar, the first riverboat in the state to receive its gambling license from the Indiana Gaming Commission.
Gambling became easier when Caesars Indiana opened in November 1998 in southeastern Harrison County. It wasn’t long after the world’s largest riverboat casino opened that Fessel won big: about $10,000.
‘I like to win; I’ll be the first to admit it,’ he said. ‘Once I won, it speeded that up.’
Rather than take his winnings and go home, Fessel continued to gamble. ‘I was spending their money now,’ he said.
Friends began asking Fessel to accompany them to the boat, often saying that he was ‘lucky.’ He found himself going to Bridgeport quite often, even when he didn’t want to go, but he had a hard time telling people no.
‘If I was off (work), I was going to the boat,’ he said.
At first, Fessel started with the slot machines, playing the quarter slots ‘all day.’ He was ‘intimidated’ by the higher stakes card games.
But as his comfort level increased with the surroundings, his bets grew.
Fessel didn’t realize at the time he had a gambling problem.
‘It wasn’t a money issue with me,’ he said. ‘It was action, something to do, some place to go. If I won, that just made it more fun.
‘It was like going to see a movie: When the entertainment’s over ‘ or the money you brought with you is gone ‘ you leave,’ Fessel said.
But Fessel often didn’t leave. He was working three jobs: full-time at the police department, part-time in emergency medical services, and he started his own lawn mowing service.
‘That was my ‘play’ money,’ he said.
Fessel never applied for credit at Caesars’ on-site credit department, but as his losses outweighed his winnings, he was ‘borrowing’ money.
‘It became a problem when I started spending money set aside for everyday expenditures ‘ such as my truck payment,’ he said.
Fessel compared losing at gambling to a drug addict coming down off a high. ‘When you start down, you need something to boost you back up.’
Just when Fessel developed a ‘plan’ that he thought would take care of debts he had incurred, he was arrested by the Indiana State Police on charges of fraud on a financial institution, a class C felony.
Fessel said he had resigned from the police department the day before his arrest in September 2001 with the intentions of using his retirement money to pay off a bank loan he’d taken out nine months earlier.
Of course, he didn’t like being arrested, but, ‘It did stop the cycle.’
Fessel said he never confided in friends or co-workers about his personal problems.
‘I had an image problem,’ he said. ‘I thought I had to uphold this image. I never took my personal life to work. I didn’t want to burden anyone; they had their own personal problems.’
After being released from jail (Fessel said he’s paid back everyone who helped post his bond), Fessel said his family persuaded him to attend Gamblers Anonymous. The nearest meetings are in New Albany. He attended his first G.A. meeting June 1.
‘I hated to go the first couple of times,’ he said.
It took about three trips before he realized he’s a compulsive gambler.
As part of his plea agreement, the felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and Fessel was ordered to pay court costs and fees, serve one-year probation, perform 128 hours of community service, and start and maintain a Gamblers Anonymous program in Harrison County.
Fessel’s case was settled April 10. He left the court knowing what he was required to do, but he wasn’t quite sure how to do it.
As fate sometimes works, Fessel was invited to a meeting five days later, where he met some members of the board of directors at The Next Step in Corydon. They offered to let him hold G.A. meetings there.
Currently, The Next Step, located at 105 Big Indian Road northeast of downtown Corydon, hosts Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon and Narcotics Anonymous.
Board members said they had tried to get Gamblers Anonymous started there, but it never worked out.
Fessel scheduled the first Harrison County meeting for last night. He wasn’t sure how many would show up, but when he went to his regular G.A. meeting on Sunday night in New Albany, he intended to invite everyone there, some of whom are from Harrison County, to meet in Corydon.
The national Gamblers Anonymous office provides a packet to help groups get started. G.A. operates on the same 12 Step principles as other addiction groups.
‘Basically, the 12 Step program is about how to live everyday life without doing whatever it is you’re addicted to,’ Fessel said. ‘It provides you with a tool.’
G.A. meetings in Corydon will be held each Tuesday at 7 p.m. at The Next Step.
Fessel hasn’t been to Caesars in about 11 months.
There has been at least one lawsuit filed against a riverboat gaming company to recoup the plaintiff’s losses, but Fessel doesn’t blame the casinos.
‘To this day, I don’t blame Caesars. It wasn’t their fault,’ he said. ‘I made a conscious choice every day to go to the boat …’
He related it to lawsuits filed against the tobacco companies. ‘They’re a business,’ Fessel said. ‘There’s nothing illegal about going to the boat.’
Hardest thing is being honest with yourself, Fessel says
For compulsive gamblers, Gamblers Anonymous has defined gambling as ‘any betting or wagering, for self or others, whether for money or not, no matter how slight or insignificant, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance or skill.’
Randy Fessel of Corydon, who recently realized he has a gambling addiction, said the hardest thing for him in the process of being arrested, spending time in jail and dealing with his problem was being honest with himself.
‘You have to be honest with yourself if you’re going to get help,’ said the 37-year-old former police officer.
Fessel, a former DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) instructor, has been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings since June. It took three meetings before he admitted to himself that he has a gambling addiction.
Gamblers Anonymous provides a pamphlet with 20 questions to ask to help determine if you or someone you know is addicted to gambling.
They are:
1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?
10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
12. Were you reluctant to use ‘gambling money’ for normal expenditures?
13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?
16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
20. Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?
Gamblers Anonymous said most compulsive gamblers will answer yes to at least seven of these questions. Fessel believes ‘just one’ yes answer indicates a possible gambling problem.
‘It’s real easy to know if you have a gambling problem,’ he said. ‘If you get to the point where it changes your behavior in a negative way, you’ve got a problem.’
Fessel acknowledges that people are different.
‘What might be a problem for you, might not be a problem for me,’ he said. ‘For example, if you can’t sleep, you may have a problem.’
As part of his plea agreement, Fessel is starting a Gamblers Anonymous chapter in Harrison County. The group will meet each Tuesday at 7 p.m. at The Next Step, 105 N. Big Indian Road, Corydon.
‘If you think you have a problem, you probably do,’ he said. ‘There’s one guarantee: If you come to G.A. for three months and you decide it’s not for you, we’ll be glad to give you your misery back.’
Fessel admits that now he attends G.A. meetings ‘not because I’m told to, but because I like to.’