Do we have a problem?

At what point do you stage an intervention for a chronic loser?

Updated: December 3, 2002, 4:38 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Which of the following subjects is taboo at the horse races?

(a) Spouse

(b) Internal Revenue Service

(c) Mid East

(d) Fashion

(e) Diet

(f) Gambling problem

The correct pick is the last one.

The proper phraseology is probably "losing problem," because there is no such thing as a sick winner.

There's enough to worry about at the races besides whether or not that person in the corner is over-extended.

But sometimes you wonder if you should broach the subject of compulsive behavior to a nice guy betting stacks of quarters.

Horse players attract instant analysis.

You seldom hear about people with Lionel electric train problems.

Or fly fishing problems.

Or private school problems.

But 100 audience members were asked to fill in the blank after Gambling.

The survey says:

Gambling problem, 60.

Gambling fool, 19.

Gambling losses, 10.

Gambling addiction, 8.

Gambling suicide, 1.

Gambling divorce, 1.

Gambling raid, 1.

Most compulsive illnesses seem to begin with a choice.

Perhaps there is a stupid gene.

Then if you can't stop a harmful behavior, you make yourself sick.

Most addictions are obvious, take drunks and junkies.

Gambling addictions can be a matter of degree.

Losing a twenty-dollar bill can be devastating to some.

Somebody needs to come up with a formula that indicates when an intervention might be indicated.

With some of the gamblers I know, an attempt to help would turn out like the intervention on "The Sopranos" where Christopher called his mother a disgusting name and then savagely attacked those concerned about his well being.

Generally speaking, a gambling problem can be defined as anything that puts a person in a hole.

If you don't win and keep gambling, that simply does not seem to be sane.

So what's a caring person to do over the course of the holidays, a time for fellowship, about the pleasant man who sits in the corner of the betting room day after day picking horses that can't run a lick?

You ask how he's doing.

He says they're killing him again.

Not many winners?

No winners.

I confess to going by his table one day after the races and looking at a couple of the tickets that had been discarded.

It was done of a good heart.

The only discernable pattern concerned the size of the bets.

Big.

Who knows, perhaps one benefit to betting them up big is that in some instances it helps keep people alive.

All you can do if you're concerned about somebody having a losing problem at the horse races is ask around.

See what he does for a living.

Maybe you could discreetly leave something at his seat one day, a guide to better handicapping or a counselor's business card.

The person in this case turned out to be an attorney, a relief.

No further action was required.

Lawyers and dentists are exempt from gambling therapy because they can't come close to throwing away half of what they make.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@go.com