By Steve Reed
Johnstonian News Group
August 3, 2016
Editor’s Note: It’s encouraging to see a local media group, in this case the Johnstonian News Group from Johnston County, doing research and providing information to their readers on issues related to problem gambling in North Carolina. The Christian Action League appreciates that they are allowing us to share what they have found with you. This article is Part Two in a series of two. The context of the writing is for Johnston County residents. However, people in other counties may draw good ideas from how these folks are addressing the issues of problem gambling in their area.
Posting these articles, however, does not necessarily mean the Christian Action League agrees with all of its content.
In a previous article, we saw that the state of North Carolina spends over $1 million per year on gambling addicts.
One Johnston County church has joined a nationwide ministry to battle addiction.
Temple Baptist Church, located at 1250 S. Pollock St., in Selma offers a Celebrate Recovery support group that meets Fridays at 7 p.m. in the Temple Worship Center.
The church will host a Recovery Rally on Friday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. There will be a live band and motivational speakers.
On Saturday, Sept. 17, there will be a Celebrating Recovery 5K at 8 a.m. at Smithfield Community Park.
In Selma, the 12-step program is bringing hope and healing to hundreds of people in the surrounding area.
Temple’s Celebrate Recovery Pastor John Eklund said there are 150-200 people who attend every Friday night, including children and teens.
He said it would be difficult to estimate how many people are coming because of a gambling addiction, perhaps 8 to 10 people.
“Many of those who come to Celebrate Recovery have more than one issues they are struggling with,” Eklund said.
Eklund said those who struggle with a gambling addiction experience a “high” from the risk.
“I have worked with others who would simply cope with their boredom or loneliness or past pain by escaping into playing the lottery,” Eklund said. “I believe when someone begins to compulsively play the lottery to an extent that they are feeling out of control, in tandem with resulting financial problems or relationship problems, it is time to seek help.”
The financial cost of a gambling addiction can be enormous, Eklund said.
“The promise of reward, or falling into a cycle of attempting to win back the money they lost can quickly drown a family in debt in a matter of hours,” Eklund said. “Thoughts of the next gambling opportunity, or finding money for the next gambling opportunity can be all-consuming leaving no room for anything or anyone else.”
He said he’s seen addicts manipulate, cheat and steal to feed their habit.
“Families suffer as the addiction becomes the family secret,” Eklund said. “The financial strain is felt, but many times the family is too embarrassed to get the help they need so shame keeps them in a cycle of dysfunction.”
Eklund said he’s seen gambling addiction lead to criminal activity.
“I have seen everything from shop-lifting to massive embezzlements feed this addiction,” Eklund said. “Domestic violence due to spousal confrontation has been known to occur.”
Celebrate Recovery originated 23 years ago at Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif. where Rev. Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” is the senior pastor.
Over the last twenty-three years, nearly 27,000 individuals have gone through this Christ-centered recovery program at Saddleback Church.
The Celebrate Recovery program is now being used in thousands of churches nationwide. Over two and half million individuals have completed the program.
While the North Carolina Education Lottery encourages what it describes as “responsible play,” state and local leaders feel state officials aren’t portraying an accurate picture of gambling and its impact on families and communities.
“I would agree they seem to present too rosy of a picture of the state of gambling in North Carolina,” Dr. Mark Creech, Executive Director, Christian Action League of NC, said. “The facts show the gambling enterprise is expanding in North Carolina and continues to grow despite Department of Health and Human Services figures.”
Dr. Kelton Hinton, director of missions, Johnston Baptist Association, said the North Carolina Education Lottery “preys on the poor in our communities and offers them unsubstantiated hope for a better tomorrow.”
“By most accounts, the poor are investing an inordinate amount of their very limited income into the lottery,” Hinton said. “As has always been the case, state-sponsored gambling such as the NC lottery, not only serves as a de facto additional ‘tax’ on the poor in our state but also encourages self-destructive behaviors among our population as bread-winners sacrifice their family’s financial needs on the altar of ‘the winning number.’”
In October 2014, the Johnston County District Attorney’s Office initiated a campaign in cooperation with the state Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) agency to shut down the operations of 15 businesses operating illegal Internet sweepstakes in the county.
Assistant District Attorney Keith Gordon said there are no known Internet sweepstakes operating today in Johnston County.
“Illegal gambling operations are inherently predatory and are designed to exploit the poor and vulnerable with an illusory promise of a ‘quick fix’ to their financial problems,” Gordon said. “Statewide there have been numerous cases where such businesses have been linked to the traffic of illegal controlled substances.
“Since most of these operations have large amounts of cash on hand, there is a correlation to the presence of these business and break-ins and robberies in the communities that they are found.”
Gordon said “vice breeds vice” and that the presence of illegal gambling operations are a “net harm to the communities where they are allowed to exist.”
Read the first article in this series: NC Spends More than $1 Million Annually on Gambling Addicts
The Christian Action League has posted this article with permission of the Johnstonian News Group.