Women in Gamblers Anonymous

It’s safe to say that men make up the majority of many 12 step Gamblers Anonymous groups. So where can women fit in? What difficulties do women face in Gamblers Anonymous (GA)? And how can women find common ground with men in recovery from gambling?

minute read

Intimidation for a female gambler in a GA meeting

During the discussion part of the meeting, it seemed like a few of the men directed their comments at me. “Some people come in here just to stay out of prison,” Jerry T. said as his eyes swept around the table.

Bill G. looked straight at me and added, “Any monkey can pull the handle on a slot machine.”

“Slot players aren’t real gamblers,” Sam S. said, while he rocked back and forth in his chair, “Real gamblers bet on sports, horse races, and cards.”

When Pete finished calling on the members to share, he looked at me and said, “You don’t want to share, do you Marilyn?”

“Yes, I do.” I needed help and I wouldn’t let them chase me away. I’d been a member of AA for many years and I never saw a newcomer treated so indifferently as these men were treating me. I thought they might be testing me . . . to see if I really wanted to stop gambling. I had to stay. I lost everything I worked for and at sixty years of age, I wasn’t about to lose anything else. I still had my life. After I attended meetings for a couple of months, one of the men said to me, “Hey, Marilyn, if they came up with a pill tomorrow that allowed you to gamble normally, would you take it?”

“Heck no! If I can’t gamble compulsively, I don’t want to gamble at all. That’s like telling an alcoholic he can have two beers.”

Twenty years earlier, before I attended my first AA meeting, I remember going to the library and standing between the tall rows of books where no one would see me. I pulled the AA Big Book down from the shelf and read parts of it. Now I visit book stores searching for books on gambling. All I find are books written by psychologists or researchers. I couldn’t find any books written by a female gambler.

Finding a way for women to identify with male gamblers

During the five months I waited for my trial, I continued to attend the six different GA meetings in the Phoenix area. At each meeting the men told their war stories and tried to outdo each other. I couldn’t identify with their card games, racetracks, and sports betting, but I could identify with the self-hatred, the guilt, the fears, and all the pains. So I stayed and listened.

“I lost five thousand dollars in one game,” John J. said.

“That’s nothing. I lost ten thousand one night,” Ken R. said as he crossed his arms.

“I started gambling when I was twelve,” said the skinny man in the bright red shirt.

A loan shark had knocked all of Ben’s teeth out when he wouldn’t pay up. He said, “I started gambling in back alleys when I was eight.”

Male v. female points of view in Gamblers Anonymous

The men swore constantly while they shared their stories in the discussions. They made negative comments about female gamblers. One night I asked the group if they would try to not swear so much. They looked at each other and grinned. When the next man spoke, the cuss words flew out of his mouth and he looked at me with a smirk, “Oh, Marilyn, I’m so sorry! I used the ‘F’ word.”

I answered politely, “Thank you for your apology.”

Female gamblers need to relate to other women

In a few short weeks, the swearing became less frequent and I felt more comfortable. These men knew how to stop gambling and I needed to learn how they did it. I used gambling to cope with my problems for seven years and now I must learn new ways to manage my life.

Every couple of weeks a new gal walked into the rooms and some would come back for a second meeting, but none became regulars. I heard men say things like, “Come to my place after the meeting and we’ll talk.”

“Your husband just doesn’t understand,” said the round-faced bald man as he snuggled closer to Barbara.

John S. rested his arm on Brenda’s shoulder and whispered, “You need someone to listen to you.”

“Honey, you need a shoulder to cry on,” Carl said as he walked Jenny out to the parking lot.

“You’re never going to make it.” Steve said threateningly to the two new gals. “You haven’t suffered enough. You haven’t lost enough money or gambled long enough, and you still have your homes and a job.”

Women came to the meetings and sat in the folding chairs, their eyes filled with tears. They listened to the men tell their gambling stories while pain and confusion spread across their faces. Most of them played the slot machines while the men talked about card rooms, race tracks, and sports betting. I was still too new in the program to know how to encourage the women to keep coming back. I didn’t know if I would keep coming back. One night when I watched a new woman leave the meeting, I made a promise to myself that if I could stop gambling, I would start a ‘women’s only’ group. It would be a place where the women would feel accepted and be able to identify with other women.

About the author
Marilyn Lancelot is a recovering alcoholic and compulsive gambler with twenty years of recovery. She has authored three books, Gripped by Gambling , Detour, and Switching Addictions. She also publishes a newsletter on-line, Women Helping Women for recovery from gambling. This newsletter has been published for more than 10 years and is read by women and men around the world.
I am ready to call
i Who Answers?