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Conversation with a teen-age gambler

Jerry O. is a 19-year-old compulsive gambler who wound up making a desperate call to the state's gambling hot line, operated by the Council on Compulsive Gambling. Like many who call on the hot line for help, he is not really sure he needs it, and one Gamblers Anonymous (GA) official predicts it will be a long time before he wakes up and commits himself to quitting. Contacted by phone in his New Jersey home, Jerry (not his real name) spoke in quiet, halting terms about his disastrous flirtation with the casinos. He says he has been getting into them since he was 15, and that, when he was caught, he would either come in another entrance of the same casino ``or just go right next door.'' Once inside, he said, he did what most people do: lost money. Lots of it.

``I've been losing almost every paycheck,'' he said, adding that he lives with his mother. The last time around was the worst: ``I lost $2,500. I lost my bank account. It was my car money. Right now, this kid gives me a ride to work, and I told him I would be getting a car in June. Looks like he'll have to put up with me for a while longer.'' In addition, he's been told that he will lose his job if he misses another day of work without an appropriate reason.

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On his last visit to Atlantic City, he said, he was given a free meal because he was betting in $100- to $500-hunks of chips.

Asked if he thought he could stop gambling, he answered, ``I don't know.'' Then, he paused for a long time, and finally said, ``No, to tell you the truth.''

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