If you live in Oklahoma, you probably know someone with a gambling problem. It might even be you.

Gambling is like alcohol, cigars, rich foods and rock concerts: In moderation, they can be enjoyable, but for those who overindulge, they can be harmful – whether that be to your wallet, your general health, or in the case of the concerts, your hearing.

There's no doubt tribal casinos have boosted Oklahoma's economy in ways no one thought of two decades ago. The recent approval by voters of medical marijuana use, and the relaxing of alcohol laws to allow stores to sell wine and high-point beer, are another boon for the state. And if everyone used common sense, there would be no problems.

Unfortunately, not everyone uses common sense. Longtime readers might recall that years ago, when the Cherokee casino first opened in Tahlequah, a woman claimed she was mugged and stripped of her and jewelry, including her wedding ring. Later, it turned out she had gambled away her entire paycheck, and then some, at the casino – and that she had pawned her jewelry. She lied, she later admitted, because she didn't want her husband to get mad.

People with highly addictive personalities should stay away from intoxicating substances, as well as gambling. Otherwise, they'll burn all their grocery money on scratchers, lottery tickets and slot machines. And when they don't have the willpower to avoid danger themselves, their friends and family should push them in the right direction.

Cherokee Nation Entertainment, part of the tribe's business arm, has long kept an eye out for problem gamblers, and that's why the program is so effective, and so necessary. Proper counseling and watchful eyes give addicts windows into their own minds, and let them lean on the help of others when they need it. As we reported last week, there are several elements of the Play Smart program, but first and foremost, employees are taught to recognize signs of addiction. They can point problem gamblers in the right direction.

Those who visit www.cherokeecasino.com can click on the “Play Smart” link, which has a list of 10 questions regarding gambling behavior. Those who answer “yes” to questions like, “Have you often gambled longer than you had planned?” or “Have you made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling?” should understand this is a sign they may have a problem.

If you or someone you know is spending too much money on gambling, help is available. Start by calling 1-800-522-4700 or 1-405-801-3329. There's more than money at stake here.

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