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Expansion in State Gambling Likely to Bring Expansion of Gambling Addiction

Gambling chips

New Yorkers have a chance to vote this November on whether there should be more gambling in the state.  Those who treat people with gambling addictions say it will likely result in more problem gamblers.

The New York Council on Problem Gambling is a not for profit, affiliated with the state agency on alcohol and drug abuse. It coordinates and publicizes treatments for New Yorkers with gambling addictions.

Because of their position, the group does not take a stance on whether the state should expand gambling. Michelle Hadden, director of Prevention and Training, says they are “agnostic” on whether gambling is good or bad. But she says there’s no arguing that more opportunities to gamble brings more gambling addictions.

“Any time there’s an expansion of gambling and it’s available, we’re going to see some folks get into trouble with it,” said Hadden. “I think we will see some additional problem gamblers.”

The group has an interactive web site called “Know the Odds” to help people recognize whether their gambling habit has gone too far. It supplies a calculator to add up the true amount of money that might be spent each week on buying lottery tickets, playing card games, or visiting slot machines.

They provide numbers, gathered in surveys, that show 67% of all adults in the state engage in some form of gambling, and 5% of all adults in New York are estimated to be “problem pathological gamblers ."

Voters will be asked whether to allow the building of four resort style casinos upstate, with potentially hundreds of slot machines and black jack tables, and expand up to 2000 more video lottery slot machines on Long Island.

Hadden says, statistically, though,  more people end up in trouble from overplaying more common forms of gambling. She says 42% of problem gamblers have an addiction to buying lottery tickets. She says part of the reason is that lottery tickets are “widespread and accessible” almost everywhere, at the grocery store, convenience stores and delis.

The statistics also show that gambling among younger people is increasing. 75% of college students and 80% of high schoolers gamble. Hadden says the fastest growing type of gambling among this age group is on line, and many teens are participating without their parents’ knowledge.

In response, the group has started a new campaign to urge parents to talk to their children about gambling.

Teens are banned from gambling casinos, but it’s harder to police age limits on- line, though she says Las Vegas casinos are trying to develop software safeguards.

Hadden says for most people, gambling is harmless and the majority do not develop an addiction. But she says those that do seldom hear about how to get help, and the meantime can ruin their credit, lose their homes and destroy their families.

She says more funding for help for gambling addicts is needed.  

“Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of funding statewide for problem gambling services,” she said.

The current budget is around $2 million, compared to the substantially larger budgets of casinos and even the New York Lottery division, for advertising and promotions.

The referendum that voters will see at the ballot in November does include new monies for treating problem gamblers.  The new casino owners would have to contribute $500 for each new slot machine and game table to help gambling addicts.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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