With casino gambling expanding in the Northeast, a regional approach is being advocated for the issue of problem gambling. A shared commitment to help problem gamblers was highlighted at a conference today in Springfield, Massachusetts, where a new casino is scheduled to open in two-and-a-half years.
A regional approach to preventing gambling addiction, and providing treatment and recovery services to people who become compulsive gamblers were endorsed by advocates for problem gambling services, casino operators, state lottery officials, and gaming industry regulators.
The two-dozen conference participants came from the New England states and New York to promote Problem Gambling Awareness Month which is designed to highlight help that is available to problem gamblers and to underscore shortcomings in the available resources.
Keith Whyte, Executive Director, National Council on Problem Gambling, said opportunities for people to gamble are growing faster than the availability of prevention and treatment programs.
" It is going to take a Herculean effort to get to where these individual states need to be," said Whyte.
Whyte, at the conference in Springfield Monday, announced new ways for people who suspect they or a friend or family member have a gambling problem to access help. He said in addition to a national helpline (800-522-4700) people can contact the non-profit council via text message and internet chat.
Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Steve Crosby said the commission is developing new programs to prevent gambling addiction and treat it.
" In the casinos we are adopting a responsible gaming program called Game Sense, which we adopted from Canada where it has been tremendously successful," said Crosby.
Crosby said he supports making treatment for gambling addiction that is available in Massachusetts accessible to non-Massachusetts residents.
" There are a lot of things where I think our money would be well spent and maximize the impact by taking regional strategies," said Crosby.
Conference attendees heard from a woman identified only as “Shirley” who said she was a former Massachusetts resident who became a compulsive gambler while frequenting the Indian casinos in Connecticut. She said she had to go to Indianapolis to get treated for her addiction.
" I am a person who grew up in a good family, put myself through college and law school, worked hard, never had a mental health issue or a substance abuse problem," she said. " None of the things we like to think are associated with people who find themselves in the kind of trouble I found myself in with gambling."
Representatives from the three casino companies awarded licenses in Massachusetts, MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts, and Penn National Gaming, were at the conference along with officials from Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, the operators of the two Connecticut casinos.
The casino industry, nationally, funds programs to combat compulsive gambling, but critics say casinos contribute to problem gambling by doing such things as providing free drinks and extending credit to bettors.
It’s estimated that 2 percent of the U.S. population has a gambling addiction.
The first casino in Massachusetts, which will have slot machines but no table games, is scheduled to open in June in Plainville.
A groundbreaking is scheduled for March 24th for the MGM casino in Springfield. Construction will take 30 months.