Compulsive Gambling – A Growing Community Concern


Ellen Geller Kamaras 

Since a casino may be built close to our own backyard, now is the time to become educated and to raise awareness about compulsive gambling.   

Compulsive gambling is defined as “the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life.  Gambling means that you’re willing to risk something you value in the hope of getting something of even greater value.” 

Compulsive gambling may result from a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors.  And one can become a compulsive gambler regardless of the form of gambling. Individuals playing in casinos, lotteries, and sports betting can all fall into gambling compulsively.  The gambling industry is invested in  enabling, and even encouraging, these behaviors.  

Studies have shown that children who are introduced to, and begin gambling by age 12 are four times more likely to become problem gamblers.

Exposing kids to gambling at a young age can be the critical factor in the development of a gambling addiction.  More about gaming to gambling below. 



Ike Dweck, the founder and CEO of The Safe Foundation, a New York State licensed OASAS (Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services) outpatient treatment program located in Brooklyn, is a compulsive gambler, in recovery for over 35 years. 

Ike advocates for parents to partner with school administrators to educate kids about the potential dangers of gambling.  Compulsive gambling is an addiction just like alcoholism or other substance abuse.  We must know who our children’s friends are, the type of activities they engage in, and methods we can employ to manage their screen time.  Let’s also be mindful about giving money to our children too easily. 

Technology and the Internet have dramatically altered how we go about our daily lives.  They certainly have made life easier.  However, new technology and the Internet have also been connected to increased gambling due to the ease, convenience, and accessibility of “gambling from anywhere.” 

The key to success is having effective collaboration between schools and families.  Coordination and collaboration can lead to success in many areas of a child’s life.  


Project Safe  

That’s where Safe steps in. Safe’s programs have been developed to help individuals fight compulsive gambling and other addictions.  Established in 2003, Safe serves as a haven for those experiencing difficulties with cigarettes, vaping, prescription drug addiction, alcoholism, and compulsive gambling. 

Safe’s mission is to combat the chronic disease of substance use and gambling addictions with holistic, person-centered treatment options for struggling individuals and their families.  Safe also strives to be the leader in community-based prevention education and awareness initiatives.  

Project Safe is a curriculum-based program taught in our community schools to students between fifth and twelfth grades.  Teachers through Project Safe work to educate students on healthy behaviors and life skills.  

Project Safe teachers offer a safe space for students to talk and address issues that otherwise might be difficult to address.  One question always seems to come up: “How can we prevent addiction?”  Project Safe works tirelessly to help students develop tools and skills that encourage healthy behaviors.  Some of these tools include decision-making techniques and strategies to overcome the inevitable challenges of adolescence and adulthood.  

The Project Safe curriculum consists of topics under the umbrella of “risk education,” including gambling, drug and alcohol awareness, and vaping.  The curriculum also consists of topics under the umbrella of “life skills,” including emotional recognition, resilience, the value of respect, communication in relationships, decision making, peer pressure, Internet safety, and bullying.    

Ike Dweck’s Story

Ike grew up with his three sisters in a loving and stable home. No one in the family ever struggled with gambling addictions. 

But at the young age of 11, Ike’s gambling troubles started. Between the ages of 11 and 23, Ike’s gambling habits included sports betting and casino games.  He did not reach out for help until he felt “tired of being in pain.”  That is when he found a supportive community in Gamblers Anonymous.  When Ike was 14, he went to his first GA meeting with a fellow community member, Joe S. (A”H).  Joe was instrumental in Ike’s recovery, and ultimately Joe became Ike’s mentor.  Although Ike began attending GA at such a young age, he only received the proper support and guidance after about 10 years. “I did not let go of gambling until I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.” 

In 1987, various community members became aware of Ike’s compulsive gambling problem and how he turned his life around to embrace a healthier lifestyle.  Ike inspired others in the community who had been struggling with similar issues to seek help and guidance.  Ike decided that it was time to give back to others after years of selfish and dishonest behavior. Ike has dedicated his life to helping others to relieve their suffering, as he knows just what they are going through.

“When I began volunteering, my mind started to work.  I realized there was more to life than taking – it was more important to give. Fortunately, today there are additional zoned-in therapeutic practices, not just GA – rehabilitation centers, clinical work, and therapy.”  


Ike’s Pivot to Full-Time Involvement 

In 2001, 13 years into Ike’s recovery, he received a call from his good friends Carey Sutton and Sam Sutton.  They knew about his extensive volunteer work, and even more, they were aware of the increasing substance, alcohol, and gambling issues within the community.  Carey and Sam strongly encouraged Ike to sell his sneaker business, go to school for his addiction counseling credentials, and open and addiction-focused program at Sephardic Bikur Holim. 

“I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Carey and Sam.  I found out that there was more to life than selling sneakers.  At 37, I closed my business and went back to school to study addiction.  I was busy 24/7, handling cases during the day, and in school at night.” 

After a year at SBH, Ike recognized that he could not do his job alone.  He needed an army of people solely devoted to combatting the addiction issues in the community.  He left SBH and opened The Safe Foundation.  After establishing a board, fundraising to open an office space, applying for licensure through OASAS, and hiring trained therapists, Safe is approaching its 20th anniversary.  Safe is the only gambling treatment program in Brooklyn that is licensed. 

In 2009, Ike joined the board of NYS Council on Problem Gambling to work on prevention and to help educate the governor’s office about gambling addiction. Ike retired as the vice president in 2021.  For years Ike has been involved in interventions with community members in need of treatment.  Very rarely do people seek guidance and help on their own.  Most of the time, family members and friends are instrumental in beginning the process to get treatment for the person struggling.   

When a potential client calls Safe for help, the first step is to assess their needs, and determine the appropriate type of treatment.  Sometimes, clients are encouraged to complete an inpatient treatment (at a proper facility) prior to participating in treatment at Safe.  When a client is ready for treatment at Safe, he or she enrolls in individual therapy combined with group therapy for about seven to 12 months.  Safe also has a psychiatrist trained in addiction treatment for individuals who require additional support.  Clients at Safe are guided through the early stages of recovery, including orienting them to outside supportive networks such as GA.   

“We see people getting healthy, repairing their lives, marriages, families, and more,” Ike reports.  

From Gaming to Gambling  

How do gambling behaviors begin?  Gambling behaviors tend to arise unexpectedly, as they usually involve video gaming.  Therefore, children tend to exhibit behaviors that, only later in their lives, are connected to gambling concerns.   

Gambling can trigger our brain’s reward system by releasing the “feel-good” hormone, dopamine. If children are exposed to a lot of this, their brains get used to this “high,” and it takes more to trigger their reward system.  In the long term, they may lose interest in other simple activities that don’t have the adrenaline rush of gambling. 

Playing video games, like other forms of addictive behaviors, leads to double the amount of dopamine released in the brain.  Creators of video games have successfully designed games to trigger the release of dopamine, leading to an increased likelihood of addictive game play.  Parents might want to identify ways to limit screen time, in an effort to decrease the potential for addictive game play.   


Seemingly Harmless Exposures 

Children tend to innocently get introduced to gambling.  They may be around family members playing poker with friends, betting on professional sports, and buying lottery tickets or scratch-offs.  The children notice the excitement and frustration as bets are won and lost, chips exchanged, and new hands dealt.  

Children are like sponges. They often behave similarly to their parents, as parents serve as the models for appropriate behaviors.  A child will watch the Super Bowl with his or her father and will be privy to the ins-and-outs of placing bets.  Another child will accompany his or her mother to the convenience store and will be given the opportunity to scratch the ticket in the hopes of winning a dollar.  In each example, the child is being shown the normalization of these gambling behaviors, as they are exposed to them with their parents.   

Children may also be introduced to gambling by their peers in schools.  It is clear that children are most influenced by peer pressure and the desire to fit in with others.  One is more likely to engage in these behaviors if they see their friends playing online games, even if it is not with real money.  Online gaming has become a social activity that encourages continued engagement.  

The Antidote 

Although there is no confirmed method to cure or fully prevent compulsive gambling, educational programs, especially those that target individuals with predispositions for addiction, can be extremely effective in minimizing the likelihood for addiction.  

If you or a family member has concerns about compulsive gambling behaviors, help is available.  Reach out! 



Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.  Ellen is active in her community and is currently the Vice-President of Congregation Bnai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights.  She can be contacted at