Many Swiss gamble their lives away

The profits from the Swiss lottery go to fund community services Keystone

Will the person or persons who won SFr15 million ($13.9 million) in the Swiss lottery this weekend find happiness?

This content was published on June 14, 2009 - 14:30

swissinfo.ch put that question to psychoanalyst and long-time gambling critic Mario Gmür on the occasion of the second biggest take in the nearly 40-year history of the Swiss lottery.

swissinfo.ch: Everyone would like to win a million in the lottery. Does happiness follow hitting the jackpot?

Mario Gmür: It means happiness in so far as the winner has been randomly chosen. He has the impression he has done nothing to achieve the money – but selected, in a way, by a higher being.

swissinfo.ch: If you look at the biographies of various lottery millionaires, who ended up either in financial or moral ruin, you have the impression that they were not necessarily destined to be happy.

M.G.: Most people who have won a lot of money are not able to cope. Their relationship to money and primarily the acquisition of money has become almost magical.

They do not know how to deal with it such as how to invest it because they are insufficiently qualified. And often they are of the opinion that they can continue in the same fashion because luck is on their side. But this probability is very small and a few find themselves in trouble which can lead to a complete loss of everything.

In a casino, you can win by only playing once. But if you continue to play, your chances are next to nil since the odds are on the side of the gambling house. This always leads to a loss of the money won.

swissinfo.ch: Are those who play the lottery each and every week addicted?

M.G: There is a relatively low potential for addiction compared to the financially ruinous non-stop games you find in a casino. You cannot play the lottery every minute or hour, therefore it is relatively harmless.

It is also a game for the larger public: a lot of people spend small sums which generates a lot of money won by a single person. In contrast, slot machines and roulette give individuals the chance to bet money non-stop right up until the bitter end.

swissinfo.ch: But there are some who spend a lot of money on lottery tickets every Friday.

M.G.: Those who overdo it are the exceptions.

swissinfo: When people gamble they undergo a transformation. What is the appeal? Is it only the money they expect to win?

M.G.: A driving force is certainly the expected profit and possibly the lure of challenging fate. One often sees that in people who have a tendency to believe in the impossible.

But as they continue to gamble, they often do so to win back lost money.

But there are also people who do not think they will have much success in life, in a material sense, so they maintain a certain hope by gambling.

In principle we see the same mechanism at work on the stock market. Everyone thinks they can achieve their goals by making a lucky investment, something that would not be possible through hard work alone.

swissinfo.ch: But compulsive gamblers are given help by the Federal Gaming Board, consultants and psychologists, aren't they?

M.G.: That is pure hypocrisy, a sham offer, and a fig leaf excuse! The Federal Gaming Board knows that casinos live from the exploitation of compulsive gamblers. So it has become a bit of a ritual to offer a certain amount of counselling and supervision. In principle, the majority of gamblers should be banned from playing because we know very well that it will ruin them.

On top of that, the efficient treatment of addiction is impossible. A gambling addict is as sick as someone dependent on heroin. It is tough to kick the habit. Those that do receive treatment have already been ruined. And there is no medication or surrogate like methadone.

Psychotherapy alone cannot guarantee a successful recovery.

swissinfo: Are there particular types of individuals who are particularly at risk of addiction?

M.G.: People who on the surface are easily excitable. But also those who suffer from cerebral damage have difficulty resisting the lure of gambling. And there are some who put all their energies into gambling to distract themselves from a personal crisis they may find themselves in.

Particularly threatened are those who are lucky the first time they try their hand at gambling and think that is the norm.

swissinfo.ch: What do you think about the role of the state? On the one hand, it profits from the casino tax and on the other, it must provide for the therapy of gambling addicts.

M.G.: The state's role is scandalous both politically and morally. This is about the exploitation of people's weaknesses and inexperience. And this is how money is generated for the state pension plan!

Etienne Strebel, swissinfo.ch (Translated and adapted by Dale Bechtel)

Swiss lotteries

The Federal Statistics Office reported turnover in the industry in 2008 of SFr2.73 billion or 2.5 per cent less than in the record year of 2006.

This represented SFr360 per head of the population (SFr374 in 2006).

The most popular lottery, Swiss Lotto, reported turnover had increased from SFr413 million in 2006 to SFr569 million in 2007, a rise of 37.8 per cent).

Turnover in Switzerland for the Euro Millions lottery declined by 24.2 per cent from SFr545 million to SFr413 million.

The organisations that run lotteries paid out SFr523 million into cantonal lottery and sports funds as well as into sport associations.

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Gambling in Switzerland

Swiss voters agreed to lift a ban on gambling in a referendum in 1993.

The Swiss government granted the first round of concessions allowing casinos to be set up in 2001. The government awarded so-called Class A licences to seven casinos, all of which are allowed to operate with no upper limit imposed on bets.

The 18 members of the Swiss Casino Federation possess 3,223 slot machines and 233 gambling tables.

The government recently proposed to modify the law on slot machines, allowing them to be reintroduced in restaurants. However it was badly received by almost all sectors of the industry.

Swiss casino operators can be fined up to SFr500,000 for letting gamblers who have been barred from playing return to the tables.

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