Saturday Mailbox


December 13, 2003

Ask gamblers if compulsion is a mere myth

At first blush, Richard Vatz's assertion that compulsive gambling is a myth appears convincing ("The compulsive gambling myth," Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 5). We believe, correctly, that most individuals are able to exercise good judgment when indulging in gambling, whatever their game of choice.

But to maintain that compulsive gambling is a myth by virtue of the absence of "legitimate" symptoms is inaccurate.

While both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) criteria may lack rigor, the impact on the compulsive gambler's emotional, physical and work life and his family can be devastating. The fallout related to gambling is also progressive and can be fatal if left unchecked.

Does the APA need proof of the existence of compulsive gamblers?

Then just interview a few of the folks who present a simple truth: the quality of their personal, family and work life is far superior now that they have quit to what it was when they were gambling.

We do not need any more studies to confirm the obvious fact that compulsive gambling is a reality for a portion of those who gamble. Mr. Vatz and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are precisely correct that there is no excuse for these folks -- they don't need any.

What they do need to do is recognize this progressive and potentially devastating condition for what it is and take the appropriate steps to stop the behavior.

Joseph S. Lemmon


The writer is a consultant who helps companies work with employees with behavioral health issues.

Missing the point on gambling issues

Richard Vatz's column "The compulsive gambling myth" (Opinion Commentary, Dec. 5) misses the point on two major fronts. One is whether compulsive gambling is a legitimate psychiatric illness; the other is whether we should expand gambling in Maryland to include slot machines.

The fact is that the American Psychiatric Association already recognizes compulsive gambling as a psychiatric disorder, as Mr. Vatz notes. This classification allows treatment and recognition for people with this horrible problem.

Simply saying that gambling is an "adult decision" (echoing the governor) does not negate the millions of people who borrow, steal and basically cause their lives and those of their families and friends to descend into an economic and mental hell because of compulsive gambling.

Much the same was said of alcoholism for many years, yet few today would argue that the millions who suffer with that problem simply require a better adult decision.

Mr. Vatz also fails to address the distinction between a lottery ticket and slot machines. But anyone who has played the slots will tell you the instant feedback, lights and sounds of slot machines are very exciting, and that it is difficult, if not impossible, to simply play one game.

The fact is that these machines are extremely fun and can become addictive for some people.

My mother, for instance, loves to play slot machines but does not want them in Maryland. She likes that she has to travel to Delaware a couple of times a year -- otherwise she knows she could never keep within her entertainment budget designated for slots. She knows the dangers and wants slots kept at a distance.

And I have personally played slots and enjoyed them. But I do not want them in Maryland, at least without strict safeguards to prevent them from changing the state's way of life.

Ed Thrush


State is improving 911 phone service

The Sun has properly raised the issue of enhanced 911 phone service both in news articles ("Pinpointing origin of cell phone calls slowly moves ahead," Dec. 1) and editorials ("A call for help," Dec. 8).

Marylanders should know, however, that the General Assembly and the governor took action on this issue during the 2003 session by passing legislation that provides for funding, implementation and accountability to bring this critical service online.

Over the next few years, our counties will be upgrading their 911 phone service so that wireless emergency callers can be immediately located. This will make it possible for rescue personnel to arrive promptly.

All key stakeholders -- the state, counties, emergency personnel, wireless companies and legislators -- worked together to ensure this important step in public safety.

Daniel K. Morhaim


The writer represents Baltimore County in the House of Delegates.

Some public records must be withheld

The Sun's editorial "The public's record" (Dec. 1) rightly points out instances where requested records that were unquestionably subject to disclosure under Maryland's Public Information Act were not provided. However, I feel compelled to clarify a few other issues the editorial raised.

Its most glaring omission was any mention of the fact that while many records maintained by the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) are subject to disclosure under that law, numerous other records are not.

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