It is a simple but thrilling concept — wagering money or something of value on an event with an uncertain outcome. As a game of uncertainty, like horse racing, cards or even slot machines, gambling has been entertainment for people for thousands of years. Ancient gambling included tiles in China and dice in Greece. History tells us ancient Romans loved to play dice in the streets of Rome. This led to the first-ever-recorded casino (that term would not catch on until much later), in Venice, Italy. The Council of Venice wanted to get people off the streets and create a place for controlled gambling during the carnival season. The word “casino” comes from the Latin word “cottage,” or house. Today, there are more than 500 commercial casinos in the U.S. In fact, the largest casino in the country is located just across the state line in Okla., a mere hop, skip and jump away from Frisco.
One very popular casino resort destination for families and gambling enthusiasts is Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant, Okla. About an hour drive north, Choctaw is owned by the Choctaw Nation of Okla. Revenue from all 300,000 square feet of the casino supports programs that assist tribal members with things such as health care, education, housing, senior care and other social services.
The resort offers many amenities for families beyond gambling, although that is their main attraction. The resort, which opened 30 years ago as “Choctaw Bingo,” underwent an expansion in 2015. Retail shopping, a spa, a pool, an arcade, a movie theater and dozens of dining options are available at the resort. In addition, the resort has a wide range of concerts and shows at their state-of-the-art concert venue, the Grand Theater. Performances have included popular musical acts such as Kid Rock, Willie Nelson, Sugarland and Eddie Money.
Gambling can provide wonderful social interaction with friends and a much-needed fun break. While it is entertaining, it is discouraged to consider it a money-making shortcut. For some people, the thrill and adrenaline rush of gambling can turn into an addiction. An estimated two million Americans are considered pathological gamblers, an addictive disorder defined as “gambling causing social and financial issues.” Four to six million more people are thought to be problem gamblers, or gamblers who gamble continuously despite negative consequences. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, people between the ages of 20 and 30 years old have the highest rate of gambling addictions.
Kristina Humenesky, the director of public relations for the Choctaw Nation Division of Commerce, says Choctaw is a resort aimed at helping people relax and enjoy all the amenities. “Just like many other types of entertainment, gambling can give you a break from the stresses of work and day-to-day life. The resort is a great place to get away with friends and play table games like blackjack and poker or to try your luck at the slot machines. Instead of hopping on a plane to Las Vegas, Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant is a more affordable option, giving you the same experience, but only a short drive away.”
Ms. Humenesky says the casino is committed to helping people enjoy gambling and is proactive about guiding guests to seek the appropriate help, if the need arises. “All employees are mandated to attend annual training seminars on problem gambling. Guests can do self-exclusions at their discretion for 30 days and up to a lifetime ban. Guests are also able to call a hotline or seek guidance from our Gaming Commission. The hotline information is available in hotel rooms and at cashier booths,” she says.
The casino’s efforts to abate addictive gambling coincide with the latest code from the American Gambling Association, which calls on casino operators to be more transparent with patrons and provide training to employees. Casino operators are now required to explain to patrons the odds of winning or losing at various games and the association prohibits them from using advertising that claims the game will guarantee a person’s social, financial or personal success. Choctaw is a Certified Responsible Gaming Member of the Okla. Association on Problem and Compulsive Gambling (OAPCG), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation. The OAPCG’s main purpose is to help Okla. tribes meet state requirements by providing casino employee training. The group also promotes public awareness within the state about the problems associated with compulsive gambling and maintains a 24-hour confidential, toll-free helpline.
The criteria for a gambling disorder includes lying about gambling, gambling to escape a depressed or sad mood, irritability when stopping gambling and asking or relying on others to provide money for gambling debts (referred to as “bailout” in the industry).
Ms. Humenesky says gambling can be fun entertainment if guests prepare for their trip and develop a budget when coming to the resort. “Like any budget, we recommend sticking to a pre-determined amount you wish to spend.”
Frisco resident Adam Bellissimo says he has been to Choctaw before and enjoyed gambling, as well as some outdoor activities, like fishing in nearby Pottsboro. He says he likes gambling, but can also see the darker side, when people become addicted. “I enjoy the thrills of gambling, due to the chance of winning a little bit of money, but never play with more then I feel like I can lose without having to stress out about it,” he says. “My advice to someone not hoping to get addicted is to remember it is just a game or a hobby. Do not go to a casino hoping to win money. They are there for a reason and it is not for guests to make money.”
Brenda Alexander also loves the thrill of gambling and visits casinos in the Okla. area when she visits her daughter’s family here in Frisco. She says, “My favorite game to play is the slots. I also like cards and roulette.” Ms. Alexander says she enjoys the social aspects of gambling, but understands the need to set limits. “I make gambling a special treat and not a constant source of entertainment. When I go, I set an amount I can afford to lose, considering that as the cost of entertainment that night,” she says. When asked her favorite part about gambling, Ms. Alexander smiles and does not hesitate to share her ultimate goal. “It is the possibility of hitting a jackpot!” she says.
Even though Texas law does not allow for casinos (only allows betting on horse racing and dog racing), Native American lands are not subject to the same state gambling laws. Texans can participate in the Texas Lottery, Bingo and raffles, but why not take a little road trip this spring and experience something new?