OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

March 16, 1995

Gambling and the Money Myth

by Durand F. Jacobs Ph.D.

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library

Biography of Durand F. Jacobs Ph.D.

·Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, American Board of Professional Psychology

·Chief, Psychology Service, Jerry L. Pettis Memorial veterans Hospital, Loma Linda, Calif. 1977-1990

·Professor of Psychiatry, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda, Calif.

·Clinical Professor, Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, Pasadena, Calif.

·President, California State Psychological Association, 1989

·Vice-President, National Council on Problem Gambling, 1995

·Charter member California Council on Compulsive Gambling; contributing editor to the Journal of Gambling Behavior.

·Dr. Jacobs has been involved in treatment, training of professionals, and research on addictive behaviors over the past thirty years. He was instrumental in establishing the first inpatient treatment program for compulsive gamblers in 1972.

He has reported his research on compulsive gambling and means for identifying and intervening high risk youth at national and international conferences and in a number of journals and books.

His work describing gambling among teenagers and the special vulnerability of children of parents who gamble excessively appeared as two chapters in Compulsive Gambling: Theory. Research and Practice (Lexington Press), edited by Howard Shaffer et al. This book is based on presentations made at the First Invitational Symposium on Compulsive Gambling, held June 3-4, 1988 at the Center for Addictive Studies, Harvard University Medical School ·Dr. Jacobs is a recipient of the Herman Goldman Foundation Award:

"In recognition of your dedication, support, and continuing research efforts highlighting the consequences of compulsive gambling on families and youth. "

·Recipient of award from Harvard University, Division of Addictions ( April 7, 1995) "For lifelong contributions to Youth Gambling"


Durand F. Jacobs, Ph.D., ABPP.


Research and clinical findings are presented that sups at the author's position that money used for gambling has a meaning all its own. An analysis is offered of how money is perceived when it is wagered by the growing multitudes of occasional recreational gamblers, regular lottery and bingo players, frequent racetrack and casino devotees, and among those who have been classified as compulsive or pathological gamblers.

The material to follow will challenge the popular stereotype of the compulsive/pathological gambler as one "who is driven to bet and win large amounts of money in order to satisfy an inordinate need to possess this commodity."

For most people, most of the time, the value and utility of money id held in relatively high esteem. On a day-to-day basis money is accumulated, saved, and dispensed in a pragmatic fashion to satisfy real-world needs and to build towards real-world goals. However, it will be advanced that, when these same people gamble, the meaning and value they had formerly attributed to their money undergoes some very interesting and progressive transformations. In the extreme case it will be shown how money can lose all its usual meanings, and bow it becomes nothing more than "fuel" to keep the compulsive pathological gambler "in action."

The author will present his reasons for predicting that, during the 1990s, gambling will become the favorite recreational activity of the American public and that, concurrently, gambling will become America's fastest growing addiction -- particularly among our youth.


A variety of social and behavioral scientists each have offered their perspectives to explain how money has come to mean whatever it does to the user and to the broader society in which it is circulated. In the main, they have addressed a common set of questions:

- Does the monetary Value of a dollar alone constitute its meaning? Or does one's total wealth color its value and meaning?

- To what extent does one's sordid upbringing influence one's perception of money?

- Does the purpose for which money is spent alter its significance?

- Does [he meaning of money vary in relation to its source (e.g., "hard-earned money", "found money", "dirty money", "piggy-bank money", etc.)?

- What best explains the chameleonic character do money?

Clearly, money and its manifold meanings constitute a many splendored thing. Likely the answer to which facet dominates at any given moment can be found only in the eye of each beholder.

As a simple experiment, let us select at random some ordinary Americans and follow them around for a day or two as

they pursue their ordinary affairs. Observe carefully how they great their money when they count out bus fare, purchase lunch, shop for groceries, pay bills, give allowance to their kids, and in all the other pedestrian things they do with money on at average day. Then find occasion to follow them to Tuesday night bingo or Saturday night poker, and especially if they go to a racetrack or satellite betting center, or to a casino. Note carefully if they treat their money differently when wagering. I'll bet you will find that they do.

The basic premise of this paper is that, when gambling, people reveal a marked cognitive gift from their usual perception of money when they are not gambling. In a word: so-called "gambling money" assumes a meaning all its own.

This position is highly consistent with that of sociologist Zelizer's concept (1989) of "special moneys", set forth in her book titled "The Social Meaning of Money." Zelizer's position is that social factors take precedence over economic considerations in determining:

(A) the specified uses to which money will be allocated, (B) the specified users of specially designated moneys, (C) how much money will be allocated to each use, (D) who (in the family) controls which of the separate allocations, and, (a) how differing sources of money are linked to different uses.

For instance, Zelizer describes how at the turn of this century a man gave his wife "pin money" for her own use. Or, on her own initiative, the wife may have set aside a small portion from her allocated household allowance and kept it apart from the "real money" provided by the breadwinner in the family. Although a dollar of a woman's "pin money" was numerically equivalent to a dollar of a man's earnings, the manner in which it was accumulated identified such money as "different", as supplemental, or incidental, and often proscribed its allocation for non-substantive, trivial, or fanciful purposes.

Today, the term "pin money" has lost its historical roots. Yet, the former distinction between real money and "pin money" persists, continuing to confer unspoken permission for these accumulations of special set-aside monies to be more freely dispensed, usually for fun and special treats.

It is only a short step from Zelizer's concept of "special moneys" to this author's contention that "gambling money" of whatever denomination is perceived as radically different than comparable denominations of "grocery money", "rent money", "insurance money", "college money", etc. Indeed, it is the agreed-upon practice of some families to maintain separate money jars (or bank accounts) for each explicit purpose. Despite such social contracts, it is not unusual for the husband or wife to surreptitiously "skim" some of the dollars at their disposal and squirrel these (privately-designated) special moneys away for their own purposes. One might term this as a form of "domestic embezzlement." Acquisition of gambling money typically follows this course -- both at home and, all too often, at one's place of employment, where the term "embezzlement" takes on a much more sinister connotation.

By now the reader must have concluded that there is little correlation between the value stamped on the face of a unit of legal tender and the personal meaning variously attributed to it by members of a given population of users. To believe that a "dollar" (sic) maintains the same uniform meaning for all members of a society at all times and under all circumstances is to espouse the "money myth."


At this juncture it's useful to recall the distinction Zelizer drew between "pin money" and real money. Even though a dollar of pin money had the equivalent numerical value as the conventionally acquired dollar, it simply was not considered the same as real money. Hence, it was relegated to other than important real world expenditures.

In the discussion to follow a similar distinction will be drawn between "gambling money" and real money. We'll also examine both the subtle and very profound transformations money assumes as it is moved from its usual real world content into the realm of gaming.

First we will consider the role of money in normal-range occasional recreational gambling. This topic should strike home for most readers, since the overwhelming majority of the adult American public have familiarized themselves with that activity. Indeed, in 1990 over 80 percent of this country's adult population admitted to having participated in some form of gambling during their lifetime. This represents more than a 31 percent increase in adult gambling behavior since 1974, when the first survey of "Gambling in America" was initiated (Kallick, at al., 1976). This dramatic increase is directly related to the virtual explosion of legalized gaming opportunities that has occurred over the past 20 years in all but two states (Hawaii and Utah) and is linked particularly to the literally just-around-/be-corner ready accessibility of lottery-ticket vendors in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Not only have 48 states legalized gambling in some form, but with the advent of lotteries, over 70 percent of these states now actively promote their ticket sales with slick multi-million dollar advertising campaigns that assail the eyes and ears of their citizens at every turn.

When confronted about how vigorously they now market what bad recently been constitutionally illegal in their stage, lottery directors typically respond in shocked innocence. they proclaim that a portion of the money taken in by the lottery is contributing to a needed public service (e.g., aiding the schools, the poor, the aged, The environment, etc., etc.) And besides, "IT IS NOT GAMBLING": "it's fun," "it's recreation," and it only draws players' "discretionary dollar. (Shades of Zelizer and her treatise on the perceived difference between "pin money" and real money!).

It would appear that by deliberate acts of semantic legerdemain recognized leaders in the public domain have not only conjugated the meaning of money, but deftly side-stepped former legal, social, and moral admonishments about gambling in order to meet their own desperate needs for increasing state revenues -- short of additional taxation. All this in the face of long-standing evidence that, once a state promotes any one form of gambling, all forms -- both legal and illegal -- tend to increase. The extent and intensity of America's most recent love affair with gambling is evidenced by the torrential outpouring of dollars that have been wagered.

In 1974, when 60 percent of America's adults gambled, they wagered $17.4 billion on legalized games of chance. By 1990, when over 80 percent gambled, the gross legal handle was over $240 billion. By 1994, it had grown to $400 billion. This represents more than a 2,000 percent increase in dollar volume wagered in just 20 years. Small wonder that gaming is described as America's s newest growth industry Moreover, the dollars bet illegally are held to be Lens of billions of dollars more.

Since their recent reintroduction on the national scene in New Hampshire in 1964, lotteries have become the most widespread and locally successful form of wagering. A, a state-held monopoly, they have captured more players than any other game. In 1994, these 37 lotteries had convinced the American public to play over $20 billion on their collective "recreational games." By contrast, during the same year, Americans spent only $? billion at movie theaters and another $8 billion at record stores. Clearly, the sinful overtones once associated with gambling no longer prevail, and even The onus of baying a gambling enterprise "close to home" is being overcome in more and more communities.

While gambling formerly was looked upon (or frowned upon) strictly as a form of public entertainment or diversion, now it's major utility is to raise revenues for government. Lawmakers in cities, counties, and states have come to use legalized gambling as a way to wring money from voters who remain stubbornly unwilling to pay bigger taxes. Increasingly schools, religious groups, and service organizations also have espoused gaming ventures as a quick way out of their own financial difficulties By this process The meaning of gambling and The valence of "gambling money" has been redefined. Once sinful, gambling has metamorphosed into social and moral acceptance: "Just so it's for a good cause!" However, the good-cause veneer goon rubs off, as states and other newly-legalized gaming entrepreneurs entice players by emphasizing the sizes of the prizes to be won and to "dream a little dream" of instant riches. AG for themselves, the players are no longer in the game solely for entertainment or diversion, or even to support the "good cause" to which a portion of the receipts are said to be dedicated. More and more play in hopes of obtaining a "quick fix" for their own financial problems. Thus, within 30 years America has witnessed and implemented The transformation of the meaning of money used for gambling from "pin money" to "play money" to "win money" to "hard cash," urgently needed and used to address important real world demanded

For the regular recreational gamblers the process of money metamorphosis goes something like this: A portion of one's real money is voluntarily redefined as "gambling money." Typically, the decision is made to mentally set aside a predetermined sum for this purpose. Most often this sum is termed "my limit." For some, gambling money may actually become a palpable collection of paper bills or coinage, kept apart from real money in its own container or in a separate pocket. However, state lotteries have deliberately intercepted and short circuited the course of this process by deliberately positioning The sale of lottery tickets in corner grocery and liquor stores, gas stations, and in an array of other neighborhood shops, thereby promoting "impulse buying" among occasional players. However, once The regular recreational gamblers decide to venture into The gaming world, whether it be bingo hall, card parlor, satellite betting office, racetrack of casino, The very rules of passage demand a formal transfer of their dedicated real money into The specialized "play money" of that particular gambling realm. Any lingering doubts about spending had-earned dollars on gambling are neatly dissipated (at least while gambling) by a series of cognitive shifts they are led to make about the meaning they ordinarily attribute to money. Abt and Smith (1985) describe this process very well: "Money itself plays an almost identical role for recreational gamblers; it's used primarily to facilitate the decision making process. Honey establishes the fact of a decisive act, but at the track it is converted into a ticket marked with the decision and the amount wagered, and in the casino it disappears into the drop box and is replaced with gaming tickets (check or chips) to be placed on designated spots on a playing field. In each case the cash vanishes, and The player is left with only a symbol of his decision. This transaction may be seen as one of the ways in which the casino or track manipulates players into forgetting the value of their money {p. 65)."

The design and ambient environment of the established gaming setting reinforces the impression that one has left the real world and its associated cares, value", and behaviors. The world of the gaming center is deliberately structured so that any competing awareness of real world time, concerns, and obligations is inhibited (Goffman, 1961).


In his seminal studies of Encounters sociological Goffman describes games (including gambling) as "world-building activities." That phrase provides a fitting introduction to the remarks that follow. These will invite the reader to glimpse into the unique world of fantasy into which the compulsive/pathological gambler escapes and within which finds a more rewarding persona.

The terms "compulsive gambler" and "pathological gambler" tend to be used interchangeably. Historically, The former designation was used both by lay persons and by health professionals. Since 1980, when The American Psychiatric Association (APA) first recognized pathological gambling as a treatable illness, the latter diagnostic entity has prevailed in professional parlance. Still, the description "compulsive gambled" remains dominant in public communications, even though it conveys the erroneous impression of a person driven irresistibly by an irrational impulse to repeatedly perform an unwanted act. This description fits a compulsive hand washer, but, as will be seen, seriously misses the mark for describing the motives, triggering stimuli, and instrumental behaviors of the pathological gambler. For the record, the criteria developed by The APA (1987) to justify a diagnosis of "pathological gambling requires that at least four of the following observations be confirmed:

- Frequent preoccupation with gambling or obtaining money to gamble.

- Frequent gambling of larger amounts of money or over a longer period of time than intended.

- A need to increase The size or frequency of bets to achieve the desired excitement.

- Restlessness or irritability if unable to gamble.

- Repeated loss of money by gambling and returns another day to win back losses.

- Frequent gambling when expected to meet social or occupational obligations. .

- Sacrifice of some important social, occupational or recreational activity in order to gamble.

- Continuation of gambling despite an ability to pay mounting debts or despite other significant social, occupational, or legal problems that the person knows to be exacerbated by gambling.

Even though the APA listed pathological gambling under the general rubric of "impulse control disorders," the majority of health professionals would agree that pathological gambling is more logically classified as a true addiction.

Jacobs (1982, 1989) has defined addiction as a "dependent state acquired over an extended period of time by a predisposed person in an attempt to correct a chronic stress condition." Viewed in this light, addictive patterns of behavior may be conceptualized as a form of deliberate self-management or self-treatment of a preexisting condition. This perspective offers some advantages when engaging addicts in treatment, since it recognizes the influence of predisposing physiologic and psychologic factors over which they had little or no control in the past. However, it now holds the patient responsible for acquiring or strengthening more adaptive alternatives to replace the maladaptive and damaging efforts the addict had been using to cope with the perceived stress condition.

Addictive patterns of behavior may involve substances such as food, alcohol, other licit and illicit drugs, as well as activities such as, but not limited to, gambling, overeating, sex, firesetting, overspending and overwork. The function of virtually any addictive pattern of behavior as an acquired defense against present or anticipated physical and psychic pain is a view advanced by Jacobs (1989) that has been given far less emphasis in other treatises on addiction.

Jacobs' general Theory of Addictions (1989) has received growing acceptance and support in both the scientific and professional communities. According to Jacobs' theory there are two predisposing factors that interact to potentiate and maintain an addictive pattern of behavior:

1) A physiological arousal level that is perceived as chronically hypotensive or hypertensive. These arousal levels -- sometimes associated with people called "enhancers" or "reducers" -- represent people who are characteristically either bored (low arousal) or tense (high arousal). Either of these extremes of temperament is considered to be aversive to the individual and a necessary predisposition for developing an addiction.

2) A childhood and adolescence marked by deep feelings of inadequacy and integrity, and a pervasive sense of rejection by parents and significant others. Such people would be expected to engage in one of several alternative behaviors to gain relief from such aversive feelings. These would include adaptive behaviors to gain social acceptance, antisocial behavior as form of retaliation, or a pretense of indifference to rejection that masks escape through wish-fulfilling fantasies wherein sued persons imagine themselves as successful, powerful, loved, and admired.

Jacobs believes that persona who combine an aversive arousal state with self-treatment of stress and inferiority by fantasy are the greatest risk for developing addictive behaviors. For them a wide range of behaviors -- gambling, drug use, and overeating -- serve to provide a "dissociative state" that blurs reality testing, lowers self-criticalness and self-consciousness, and permits complimentary daydreams about oneself.

In Jacobs' theoretical framework most problem gamblers would be expected to fall within the hypotensive (reducer) category, consistent with their frequent reports of feeling bored, numb, dead inside, and finding life dull, monotonous, and empty except when gambling. "For them, the excitement of gambling replaces their depression and boredom with exhilaration and a feeling of being 'acutely alive.'"

Jacobs was the final to discover definitive evidence of a common dissociative process that facilitates the initiation and maintenance of addictive behaviors among groups as disparate as alcoholics, compulsive gamblers and compulsive overeaters. Evidence for experiencing dissociative phenomena, while indulging in a given addictive pattern of behavior, is represented by self reports of "feeling like in a trance," "feeling like a different person," "feeling outside myself -watching myself, like in a dream," and experiencing "memory blackouts" for time periods or things that happened while indulging. These types of dissociative reactions were found to be especially prevalent among known compulsive/pathological gamblers. The above named types of dissociative reactions were reported significantly more often among pathological gamblers than among normative samples of adolescents and adults as reactions accompanying their respective gambling experiences.

In the context of the General Theory of Addictions an addictive substance or activity is conceptualized as a means to an end. At least during The early and middle to late stages of The addictive career, it serves a friendly gatekeeper function. At a certain level of indulgence (either physiologically, neurochemically, psychologically and/or via some as-yet unknown combination of these mediators) it permits the person to become so detached from unpleasant reality and so engrossed in pleasurable fantasy that he or she assumes an altered state of identity. This altered state is the end product of a self-induced dissociative condition. When in this state, The individual finds it easy to create and act out roles consistent with his or her now-modified (idealized) self-image. Those who have experienced this altered state of identity report believing They somehow become "more so" with regard to positive features of their personality, physical appearance, social graces, sexuality, and other competent functioning. Concurrently, They report They [eel "less so" about what They had perceived as their negative or deficient features. This improvement of subjectively perceived psychological well-being also is said to be accompanied by reduced awareness of previous physical discomfort. While individual reports vary, aspects of this same mix of experiences are said to occur whether the addictive behavior is practiced under social or solitary conditions.

With reality testing compromised by the action of the addictive substance or activity, and inhibitions and self-criticism progressively reduced as the level of preoccupation with and indulgence in the addictive behavior increases, self-delusion becomes easier and the individual is freed to generate and even act out roles that heretofore have been only fantasies. Given the theoretical and descriptive context noted above, one begins to understand the peculiar meaning that money holds for the pathological gambler, while acquiring funds with which to gamble and while gambling.

For both the occasional and the regular recreational gambler, the fun of playing the game, outwitting an opponent, and enjoying an ambient setting typically outweighs and outnumbers the thrill of actually winning. The recreational gambler seeks diversion and relaxation and a brief escape from the serious pursuits of his or her life. As with other recreational activities gambling represents only a marginal, infrequent, and relatively unimportant option to fill one's leisure time. Money won or lost by recreational gamblers is given a diminished value and exerts an insignificant impact on their social or financial position, occupation, self esteem, physical well-being or life goals.

None of the above descriptive features prevail in the pathological gambler. This was underscored in the foregoing diagnostic check list compiled by the American Psychiatric Association. For pathological gamblers the underlying drives and motives, the centrality of gambling to their lives, the time devoted, the risks taken, the frenetic attending behaviors, even the meaning and significance of money are a quantum leap distant from those of recreational gamblers. As evidenced by findings supporting Jacobs' General Theory of Addictions, these differences are both quantitative and qualitative.

In their book titled When Luck Runs Out, Custer and Milt (1985) offer some examples of the unique meaning that money assumed for a pathological gambler after his first "big win":

"Quite suddenly money takes on a new significance. Before, money meant only the things you could buy with it. Now, money is something else. Money is importance."

Another example was from a gambler in a winning streak:

"When you've have got money, people crowd around you, admire you, tell other people about you. Money is friendship. When you have got money to spend, people are your friends. Even without friends, money can keep you from being lonely. If someone rejects you or doesn't like you, you can stick your hand in your pocket, clutch that role of bills, and say, 'Who needs you? I've got money!'"

Still another compulsive gambler stated:

"Money is medicine. It's tranquilizers and antidepressants, uppers and downers, sedatives and stimulants. If you are feeling worried, agitated, restless, it relaxes you, gets you comfortable and calm. If you are feeling dejected or blue, it will energize you, set the adrenaline flowing, give you the greatest highs, put you on top of the world."

These happy times that characterize the early and middle stages of the addictive process no longer prevail as the pathological gambler inevitably enters the closing stage of his addictive career. This period is marked by extended losing streaks and "chasing" after losses. The previous magical properties attributed to money as social and psychological medicine progressively diminish. Assailed with overwhelming debts, long since rejected by family, friends, and employer for his lies and transgressions, dreading the discovery and consequences of the illegal means he has used to obtain funds for betting, the gambler has lost hope of ever recouping enough money to meet his real-world obligations.

Indeed, the gambler may recall that when there were "winnings," he had really intended to replace "borrowed" funds or reduce other debts. However, this seldom happens. Winnings are quickly recommitted to maintain "the action", and to pursue the fantasy that more winnings are in store. In the final stage of his addictive career, even these dreams are all but gone. What now remains is the driving urgency to not only escape his insurmountable problems it the real world, but to flee the even more painful realization of his long-standing and now exacerbated inadequacies and failures as a person. Suicide is contemplated frequently. For those who choose to continue living, they propel themselves even more frantically into the singular avenue that previously afforded them the combined escape, relief, and reaffirmation they so desperately sought: namely, more gambling.

It is at this point in the progressive course of their addictive career that the meaning of money undergoes its final and most profound transformation. What happens as the gambler becomes totally engrossed and loses himself in the "action" has been described graphically by one of this author's young patients:

"It's the winning and the losing -there's nothing in between! There's an absolute loss of respect for money. . . . I have lost thousands in one roll -- but it's not the money. Money is just what you need to play. . . the tool, the instrument."

Countless other pathological gamblers have concurred. They agree,

"The next best thing to winning is losing -- just so you stay in action!"

A closing story (likely apocryphal) serves to illuminate the end stage in the strange metamorphosis that the meaning of money has followed in this composite case history of a pathological gambler. For him, money has long since traversed through its former meanings. Now it has assumed the dominant role of a one-of-its-kind "tool", simply an ''instrument", but coveted and closely guarded as the only remaining key to open the escape hatch from the evermore aversive real world, and to permit him yet another visit -howsoever brief -- into the wish-fulfilling fantasy world of gambling.

Join me for a glimpse of this state of affairs:

The scene is laid in the brilliantly lit parking lot along side a casino in Las Vegas. An unkempt, middle-aged man in ragged clothes drifts from incoming car to car as they park. He politely accosts the occupants:

"Please, kind sir/madam, a dollar please to help my cold and starving wife and little girl." He points apologetically to the side of the parking lot where the desolate pair can be seen crouched, thin and dishevelled, on the single step of a dilapidated house trailer.

One of the waylaid visitors counters sharply, "I'll give you no money. You'll just spend it on gambling."

"Oh no, sir," replies our friend, tapping his breast pocket. "I already have my gambling money."


Zelizer, V. The Social Meaning of Money. New York, New York: Basic Books.

Kallick, M. et al. (1976). Survey of American gambling attitudes and behavior. Appendix 2. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Abt, V. Smith, J.F. and McGurrin, M.C. (1985). Ritual, risk, and reward: A role analysis of race track and casino encounters. J. of Gambling Behavior, 1, 64-75.

Goffman, E. (1961). Encounters. Indianapolis, Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill Company.

American Psychiatric Association. (1987). diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed. rev.) Washington, D.C. Author.

Jacobs, D.F. (1982). The Addictive Personality Syndrome (APS): A new theoretical model for understanding and treating addictions. In W.R. Eadington (ed.). The Gambling Papers, Vol. II. Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada.

Jacobs, D.F. (1989). A General Theory of Addictions: Rationale for and evidence supporting a new approach for understanding and treating addictive behaviors. In J.J. Shaffer, et al. (eds.) Compulsives Gambling: Theory. Research and Practice. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company.

Custer, R. and Milt, J.C. (1985). When Luck Runs Out. New York, New York: Facts on File Publications

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