Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc.

ARIZONA HELPLINE 1-800-777-7207


A majority of all calls to the Arizona Council Helpline are from or about women with gambling problems.

95% of the women who call for help meet the criteria of Escape Gamblers. Escape Gamblers frequent different games (slots, video poker, bingo) than Action Gamblers (live poker, blackjack, sports betting). They gamble for different emotional reasons. The character profile of the Escape Gambler is almost opposite that of the Action Gambler although, in the final stages of an Action Gambler's disorder, he/she often gambles for escape. When the Action Gambler reaches this phase, he/she may meet both Action and Escape criteria. The only purpose in making such a determination is to allow a clinician to tailor the best treatment plan for the individual.

Because the great majority of women are Escape Gamblers, the woman who is an Action Gambler may, without an understanding of the differences in types of gamblers, feel uneasy about why she doesn't identify with the majority of other women, especially in a 12-step program such as GA or in an outpatient group setting.
Learning about the differences can set her mind at ease and help her accept herself. It may also help her better understand others in her program.

Until the early 1990s, very few women sought help of any kind for compulsive gambling in Arizona. We have no record of any woman obtaining a year of abstinence from gambling in any program in the state prior to 1992. The first women-only Gamblers Anonymous group started in the Phoenix area in 1992. Today, women comprise over 50% of GA's membership.


Today, there are women-preferred GA groups in Phoenix -- including a Step Writing meeting. As women begin to identify the underlying emotional issues related to their gambling, they understand that they suffer from a disease, learn to forgive themselves and embrace recovery. Whenever possible, we urge all women who believe they are compulsive gamblers to attend a women-preferred group for their first GA meeting.

Self-help programs tell women they must admit powerlessness over their compulsion to gamble. Ironically, feeling powerless over the problems in their lives may have led them to gamble in the first place.

What they need is empowerment. The machines gave them a false sense of freedom from feeling powerless. When they are asked to leave the one thing in life that gave them some sense of freedom -- their machine -- they may believe they have nothing.

They must be encouraged to replace the illusion of freedom that the machine provided with other activities and coping skills. For those who seek it, the power of a 12-step program often fills the void.


Many escape gamblers identify underlying codependency issues with which they must deal as part of their recovery. Books by Melody Beattie or Pia Mellody are recommended and are available online through Hazelden or Also visit to learn more about Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), an organization that has helped countless people address their codependency issues.

Remember, compulsive gambling
is a diagnosable and treatable disease,
not a disgrace!