Published On: Fri, Aug 29th, 2014

Casinos — a Social Health Problem in Mérida, Yucatán? 

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The adrenaline, the excitement of the moment, the expectation and urgency are some of the feelings gamblers experience right before placing a bet.  There is little doubt that gambling is an addiction.  Many have lost everything:  money, family, job, property and in some cases even their lives.  Pathological gambling is now considered a social health problem.

According to figures from the Association of Licensees, Entertainment Gambling & Gaming Industry Operators and Suppliers (Asociación de Permisionarios, Operadores y Proveedores de la Industria del Entretenimiento y Juego de Apuesta) there are more than 300 casinos in Mexico.  Legal loopholes are exploited with Amparos acting as front men, to say nothing of the many clandestine betting locations operating in secret.  Caliente was the first betting place in Merida, inaugurated 10 years ago, but betting was restricted to horse and greyhound racing, and sporting events such as boxing, football, and baseball.
Mestizas at Slot Machines

Mestizas at Slot Machines

About seven years ago the first casino, Win Pot, opened its doors in a shopping mall.  More licenses were granted, and then Juega Juega began operating across the street from the Convention Center Siglo XXI.  Later, in the northwest, Play City began its operations, closely followed by the Golden Island and the Crown City in Colonia Mexico Norte.  Soon thereafter, in the north side of Merida came Casino Life, the largest casino in town. The City Council has two more requests waiting to open more casinos.

According to the Municipal Urban Development office, which is responsible for overseeing and supervising such operations, 14,500 people visit the 9 casinos in Merida every day. The report indicates that each person spends an average of about 300 pesos gambling per visit, resulting in total gambling losses of about $4,000,000 pesos per day. 
No formal study has been conducted on the demographics of casino patrons, but women over 50 years of age are heavily represented.  Estimates indicate that at least 70 percent of clients are women of all ages.  This phenomenon can also be observed with the slot machines placed in markets around downtown Merida, where housewives or working women go with hopes of winning.

In an interview with The Yucatan Times, UADY researcher, psychologist and Sociology Ph.D., Roció Quintal López explained that pathological gambling is an addiction and a mental disorder as classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  As with any other addition, gambling tends to escalate, so that the amount at stake needs to keep increasing to achieve the same level of pleasure.
With respect to the growing number of female casino patrons over 50 years of age, Dr. Quintal López believes that casinos provide them with an opportunity to escape from feelings of abandonment by their relatives, or feeling they are a burden, among other factors.
UADY Resercher Ph D Rocio Quintal Lopez

UADY Resercher Ph D Rocio Quintal Lopez

“It’s like with children.  Because the demands of modern life require more time working or studying, it is easier to let the kids play on their tablets for hours and allow the parents time to get things done.  Similarly with older adults, if the family does not have time to properly care for them, it is easier to leave them in the casino where they can be entertained without sitting at home watching TV all day.”

Dr. Quintal López emphasized the difficulty of diagnosing a gambling problem, since the activity is socially acceptable and it is only when the gambler loses a job, or gets involved in serious problems that the addiction is recognized.
Pathological gambling can be cured, but effective therapy according to Rocio Quintal must include the entire family.  It is useless treating the gambler who may return home to a family atmosphere that led him or her to their addiction in the first place.
Concerning the role of government in this social health problem, Quintal Lopez believes that social policies for the elderly are not very encouraging, particularly with respect to gambling addiction, because the economic interests for casinos are so high.

Pathological gambling is a relatively new social problem in Merida.  The support group Vuelve a Vivir (Live Again) is there to help those with this problem.  Sessions are held Monday to Sunday from 20:00 to 21:30 hours at Avenida Alemán No. 99A between 19 y 19A Colonia Alemán / Itzimná. For more information email or visit their website at JA México / Bienvenidos
By Fatima Loeza Alcocer / Raul Ponce de Leon Curmina

Mexico Travel Care




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