Elaine Goldman (a pseudonym) is a 31-year-old college-educated Jewish woman who comes from a wealthy, high-profile family in Westchester County, just north of New York City. Within the last three years, she lost $73,000, passed bad checks, borrowed money illegally from loan sharks, alienated her family became a pathological liar and almost destroyed her entire world.
“She became an obsessive gambler,” says Linda Herman, coordinator of the Compulsive Gamblers program at Westchester (NY) Jewish Community Services (WJCS).
Confronted by her family and by school officials who said she was neglecting her children, Elaine finally agreed to get help. In three months of counseling at WJCS, she stopped gambling, and now is trying to put her life back together.
Elaine isn’t the only Jewish woman who has almost gambled her life away. In fact, Jews are overrepresented in the gambling population, according to Berman, a psychiatric social worker.
“The numbers have substantially increased in the last five years. Women have more funds available to them today, including credit cards, loans, money they make on their own,” says Berman. “Years ago gambling was male dominated. Now casinos make it more comfortable and accepted for women.”
She added that women are more vulnerable than men. “I call it the ‘Vanna White Syndome‘. They watch ‘Wheel of Fortune’ on television and they want to win something for nothing. They want to escape their difficult situations and forget reality.”
The WJCS program counsels gamblers and their families in group and individual therapy, and coordinates efforts with Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon. “The best thing you can do for compulsive gamblers is to confront them,” Berman says.”Tell them that compulsive gambling is a treatable disease and let them know there’s a place they can go to get help.”