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Gambling addiction: Its powerful grip on some

Thursday - 1/2/2014, 3:06pm  ET

WASHINGTON - A woman is accused of leaving her 4-year-old in her SUV while she gambled at Maryland Live! in Hanover, Md., and a man is accused of locking his kids in a car while playing a horse-racing video game at a Crystal City, Va., bar.

These recent high-profile incidents raise questions about problem gambling and its powerful grip on some people.

Much like a drug addiction, a gambling addiction can affect the part of the brain that controls decision making.

"Your priorities kind of change," says Dr. Christopher Welsh, medical director for the Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "You may remember the child's there in the car, but it's not as important."

(Welsh was speaking generally and not referencing any specific case.)

The Center runs a 24-hour gambling helpline, which went online around the time Maryland Live! opened. The center's call volume includes about 50 to 100 people per month, looking for help.

"It's been going up every month for the last year and a half," Welsh says. He adds that workers are now focusing on Baltimore, with a casino set to open there this year. They are also preparing for the planned opening of a casino in Prince George's County in 2016.

Those who are concerned about their own gambling, or someone else's, can call the helpline at 1-800-522-4700 and find more information at mdproblemgambling.com.

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