The following is an extract from this article:
Temptation to Gamble Is Near for Troops Overseas
By DIANA B. HENRIQUES
Published: October 19, 2005
When Carrie Beth Walsh and her two toddlers landed at the airport in Seoul, South Korea, last year, there was no sign of her husband, an Army pilot who had been transferred there six weeks earlier.
He eventually showed up in a taxi, broke and unprepared for his family’s arrival – no rental car for the drive to his base, no apartment, no credit cards in his wallet that were not already up against his loan limits. “He was making more than $60,000 a year,” Ms. Walsh said. “But we were always broke.”
Slot machines, which attract $2 billion in betting at bases overseas, are a feature of the enlisted club at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Aaron W. Walsh with his former wife, Carrie Beth, and their children in September 2003; Mr. Walsh, discharged, has been living in Las Vegas.
She soon learned why. Her husband, Warrant Officer Aaron W. Walsh, had pumped more than $20,000 into the Army’s own slot machines on bases in South Korea. Last month, his marriage and career shattered, Mr. Walsh, who is 33, resigned from the Army to avoid a court-martial on desertion charges stemming from his gambling habit.
Military gambling is a big business. About $2 billion flows through military-owned slot machines at officers’ clubs, activities centers and bowling alleys on overseas bases each year. Most flows back out as jackpots, but 6 percent remains with the house, about the same ratio as in Las Vegas.
Each year, the armed forces take in more than $120 million from on-base slot machines and $7 million from Army bingo games at home. These funds help pay for recreational programs for the troops.
But even military researchers have acknowledged that the armed forces are heavily populated by people who, like Aaron Walsh, may be especially vulnerable to gambling addiction: athletic, risk-taking young people who are experiencing severe stress and anxiety.
“And wartime is an environment that is probably creating more vulnerability than usual,” said Christine Reilly, executive director of the gambling addiction research institute at Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching institution for the Harvard Medical School.
More than four years ago, Congress ordered the Pentagon to study how on-base slot machines were affecting military families. The Pentagon initially hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to do the study, but it ended the contract after a few months and completed the study itself.
The final report provided no new data about the rate of problem gambling. But it did caution Congress that the military could not maintain many popular programs, like golf courses and family activity centers, “without slot machine revenue or a significant new source of cash.”
One consultant who worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers was Rachel Volberg, a medical sociologist who runs Gemini Resources, which measures gambling rates around the world. “We met a great deal of defensiveness, both in Washington and on base,” she said. “Everyone was very concerned that those revenues might go away.”
She added: “Only the chaplains took this really seriously. They told us that one out of three people who come to them for counseling have a problem with gambling, but can’t tell anyone because they will be dishonorably discharged.”
Slot machines are “a very profitable operation,” said Peter Isaacs, the chief operating officer of the Army’s Community and Family Support Center, which runs the largest slot machine program. “But we do not operate them strictly to extract profit. Our soldiers have told us they want access to the same games and gambling opportunities available to the civilians they are defending.”
The military is “very passive in our advertising, and we have low maximum jackpots,” Mr. Isaacs continued. “We don’t want to encourage people to blow the rent money chasing a $1 million payout.” He added, “The vast majority of the troops use the machines responsibly.”
Despite research showing that service members are at least as vulnerable to compulsive gambling as civilians – even more vulnerable, some research suggests – the military spends little of its Congressional funding, and none of its gambling profits, on treatment for those whose gambling gets out of control.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report to the Pentagon noted “a general lack of accessible treatment for gambling addiction,” but that warning was not included in the Pentagon’s final report to Congress.
It was echoed, however, in a little-noticed research paper written by a team of Navy and Marine Corps medical personnel last year, describing a gambling addiction program they started in Okinawa in January 2003.
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