You probably are as aware as anyone else if you have a gambling problem. But being aware of it doesn't necessarily mean you'll take remedial action.

A gambling problem-which means gambling is out of control--can affect anyone. Luckily, the majority of punters are sensible people and know how much they can afford to lose.  A few can't.

Leading psychologists have studied this problem for years and years. Their general conclusion is that chronic. compulsive gamblers are people who set out to punish themselves because of some subconscious guilt, often a guilt that can be tracked back to childhood trauma.

Compulsive gamblers tend to find racetracks, or betting shops, more attractive than casinos. Studies in America revealed only a small percentage of compulsive gamblers were card players. They attributed this to the fact that card-playing is a game of skill against fellow players.

You'll find many 'c-g' victims playing poker machines. How often have you heard the sorry tale of the man who picks up his pay and then loses it all in an hour or two pulling the handle of a poker machine? Racing, however, is much more of a lure for the chronic gambler.

Why? Because the races offer the chance of striking it rich; there's a race by race chance to pick up money and double and treble it-and at the same time the desperately-driven gambler, subconsciously wanting to lose, has masses of opportunities to overbet, mismanage his money and commit any amount of selection and staking mistakes!

On the surface the compulsive gambler is desperate to win but under the surface lies the terrible subconscious desire to punish himself, to lose, and to enjoy losing.

A former bookie in England who turned to punting is a classic example. As a bookie, he was extremely successful. He bet to the right percentages, he was pleased as Punch to lay the non-triers, and he couldn't help smiling as he watched the poor old punters making the same betting mistakes over and over again.

Yet when he joined the punting fraternity, he became one of them. He made all the mistakes. He lost a fortune. It was only when he reached the shrink's couch that he came to terms with the fact. that he was carrying an enormous guilt. The psychologist speculated that it was a combination of guilt at getting rich on the backs of battlers, and perhaps more so the fact that a younger brother had been killed in an accident when both were toddlers. The bookmaker had felt guilty at having survived the car crash that killed his brother.

Basically, the psychologists say, chronic gamblers need to lose. They are racetrack masochists. Give them a winning system and they'll ignore it. Explain to them that if they staked their money differently they would win, and they'll still ignore you.

The first thing chronic gamblers have to do is recognise their plight. If they don't, or won't they will just go on losing and losing.

Ask yourself this question: Are you betting too much of your money? If the answer, honestly, is 'yes' then you should immediately cut down on your outlay. Halve your bets. Take it easy. If the compulsion is there to bet all the time then bet in the lowest unit around-50 cents.

Placing the bet will get rid of the betting compulsion you feel. You don't have to bet $50 or $100 to get rid of the compulsion. Just having a bet is usually enough, no matter what the unit cost.

Investigate your betting habits to discover what you might be doing wrong. Ask yourself if there is some underlying compulsion causing you distress.

Most of all, study punting. Learn its intricacies and its traps. You've made a start in the right direction by reading this magazine! The fact that you have bought it is a positive sign.

Learn the great financial and mental benefits which will flow from sensible betting within your financial capabilities. Brace yourself to cope with ingrained bad betting habits. Don't fall for all the same mistakes again and again.

It's no use saying that chronic gambling affects everyone else except you. It can, and does, happen to anyone. So always be positive about yourself, your betting and your hopes for the future.

Control yourself and you'll end up controlling your cash and your future. Your object should always be to end up a wise money punter, and not a mug. Most of all, you don't want to be the desperate compulsive gambler who frenziedly seeks a winner while backing loser after loser, with no thought to money management or the future.
Dr Clive Allcock, co-author of the excellent book The Guide to Good Gambling, says: "When you start to make changes in your gambling then say good things to yourself. This may seem silly but what we say to ourselves is really important.

"Try saying things like: 'I've saved $100 already; it really is worth the effort. I felt really good not betting on every race. I was more skilful in really choosing my bets. It's getting easier to keep the gambling under control'."

Dr Allcock says compulsive gamblers should adopt the following steps:

  1. recognise there is a problem;
  2. look closely at the problem;
  3. think of all the possible ways you could cure the problem;
  4. decide which is the best solution and try it out;
  5. check to see if it works. If it doesn't, then start again.

By Richard Hartley Jnr