While in federal court last week, Chris Seemayer told the judge that he had been treated for a gambling addiction.
Seemayer, who worked as Brentwood city administrator for 22 years before resigning on March 11, pleaded on June 29 guilty to two felony charges for embezzling $30,000 in city funds. He gambled away the money at the Casino Queen in East St. Louis, IL.
A compulsive gambling habit can lead an addict to follow through with even more destructive decisions, says Terri Rodriguez Ohlms, a licensed, clinical social worker who practices in the St. Louis area.
"He (Seemayer) is fortunate he was caught before he got deeper into the hole of despair," Ohlms said.
Ohlms has a lot of experience dealing with gambling addicts. She's board-certified in psychotherapy, addiction, problem gambling and hypnosis, is a state and national-certified compulsive gambling counselor, and is an addiction intervention specialist.
Maplewood-Brentwood Patch asked Ohlms to talk to us about her experience with gambling addicts.
The arrival of the boat casinos
Terri Ohlms had a sinking feeling when the first of the gambling boats appeared upstream from St. Louis in 1991. Soon, the licensed clinical social worker began to see patients addicted to gambling — from the floating casino.
Her first problem-gambling clients were a married couple, both long-recovering alcoholics, who owned a family business. She was the bookkeeper; he was the salesman.
“They came to discuss their recent financial problems,” Ohlms said. “Both admitted to enjoying the new Alton Belle that had just established itself across the river, but both claimed to be maintaining their alcohol abstinence. He, more than she, was lured to the boat. In the past they would occasionally take a trip to Las Vegas,” Ohlms said.
“After a very few weekly sessions, it became apparent to me that their financial problems were worsening. She stopped gambling as a result of the counseling. He said he would also. Then they did not return."
Fast forward five years later. The husband returned to counseling alone.
“He had been in prison for embezzling from the family business,” Ohlms said. “His wife had filed charges, but by then they had lost their business, house and all their savings to the tune of $3 million total.”
Increased accessibility means more problem gamblers
As the number of gambling venues increased, so have the number of patients with gambling addictions.
Ohlms said she has no doubt gambling problems increased as access to gambling boats increased — enough that the state set up its own gambling counselors’ training and certification program. Missouri established its Compulsive Gambling Counselor certification program in 1993, the same year the Casino Queen docked in East St. Louis, and the President (formerly the S.S. Admiral) changed from a nightclub to a gambling venue.
To reinforce their recovery, some of Ohlms’ patients voluntarily "signed-off" Missouri gambling boats, to deny them admission and result in an arrest if they illegally boarded the casino. However, some of those same patients went on to visit the Illinois boats.
While compulsive gamblers can learn to control their urge to gamble, they can never be cured, Ohlms said.
Passive and action gambling
There are two types of gambling: passive and action players. This describes the gambler’s gaming preference, not his or her attitude, Ohlms said.
Passive gamblers prefer slot machines. Action gamblers prefer card games of skill like poker and black jack. “They tend to be skilled in math, good with numbers,” said Ohlms.
Passive and action gamblers can be further categorized as being social gamblers or compulsive gamblers. Most Americans who gamble are social gamblers.
“Social gamblers have reality-based thinking,” Ohlms said. “They go in for the experience with a set amount of money, knowing they will lose, but be entertained. ‘I know what I am going to do,’ is their mindset,” she said. They enjoy the atmosphere, the crowd and the social interaction.
Not so for compulsive gamblers. “They want to isolate,” Ohlms said. “They are so hyper-focused on the win-loss. They also believe in magical-based odds.”
It starts with occasional gambling and some wins, followed by more frequent gambling and fantasies about winning big.
They lose touch with reality and believe they can beat the house. “If ‘I think a certain card, it will appear,'” Ohlms said, describing the compulsive gamblers’ thought processes.
When they return to the casino, compulsive gamblers come back with a vengeance and preoccupation to win.
“As they keep losing, they get caught in a tailspin, where they keep chasing the loss, which just becomes bigger,” she said. "This is when they make mistakes that cause them to be discovered."
A compulsive gambler with access to cash or credit at work, and no direct supervision, is at high risk to steal.
“When they have gotten themselves into a hole and have no remaining resources to bail themselves out, compulsive gamblers talk themselves into believing that they will hit the ‘big win’ again and pay the ‘borrowed money’ back,” Ohlms said.
As debt increases, so does their desperation. It’s at this point where their lives spin out of control and even bigger problems can occur. Ohlms said compulsive gamblers may be arrested or experience a divorce. Sometimes they even commit suicide.
“It takes a lifetime to become a compulsive gambler, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been gambling compulsively all that time," Ohlms said.
“Family members who suspect a problem need to seek out intervention training to bring the gambler to help before they lose everything.”
The following resources are available online for those who seek more information about gambling and addiction: