Problem gambling focus of annual conference

Panelists at the New York Council on Problem Gambling’s annual conference Tuesday and Wednesday spok

Some gamblers like to play the lottery. Some like casinos. Others like dice games, or poker, or bingo or the racetrack.

“A game is a game is a game,” said James Klein, an expert on problem and pathological gambling. “The lottery I see as almost being like alcohol, it’s easily accessible. But there are other types of gambling, other drugs of choice, if you will.”

Klein spoke at the New York Council on Problem Gambling’s annual conference Tuesday and Wednesday at the Albany Marriott. His workshop, Problem Gambling 101 in New York State, provided participants with an overview of the different types of gamblers, the impact of problem gambling on spouses and children, resources available for problem gamblers and various phases gamblers go through.

Other panelists spoke on a range of topics, including the neuroscience of addiction, different models of treatment, Internet gambling and gambling and adolescents.

Michelle Hadden, the council’s director of prevention and training, said few people understand how prevalent problem gambling is or the toll it takes on gamblers and their families. The conference aims to raise awareness and educate.

“There’s a lot of shame and guilt around this disease,” Hadden said. “Society has normalized gambling as a behavior and a pastime. To say that you have a problem with it brings a lot of shame and guilt.”

The conference occurred at a time when Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seeking to expand gambling. In November, voters will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment allowing seven Las Vegas-style casinos, with the first slated for the Capital Region, the Southern Tier and the Catskills.

Hadden said the council, which is funded by the state, doesn’t take a position on gambling itself. What the group wants to see, she said, is more funding for problem and pathological gambling prevention and research.

“We think this is an important issue, regardless of whether expansion is coming,” Hadden said. “There’s obviously a tremendous amount of gambling in the state already.”

In a letter to conference guests, Stephen Block, president of the council’s board of directors, wrote: “As a New Yorker, I am concerned about the spread of gambling opportunities in New York State and the need for more treatment and prevention services. Research has shown that with increased gambling opportunities, there is an increase in those adversely affected by problem gambling.”

“Back in 2001, it felt like [New York] was saturated with gambling opportunities,” said Klein, founder of the Utica consulting firm Integrated Behavioral Wellness and a certified gambling treatment counselor. “Now … we must be drowning.”

The council is a nonprofit organization that aims to increase public awareness of problem and compulsive gambling and provide resources to problem gamblers. Hadden said this year’s problem gambling conference was the largest ever, with 240 participants.

This year, the council launched a new problem gambling awareness campaign, Know The Odds. In October, a new round of public service advertisements will start running on the radio and on New York City public transportation; a website,, provides information about problem gambling and lists help available to problem gamblers.

A new Know the Odds kit is being distributed to people who treat problem gamblers, as well as casinos. The idea is to distribute the kits to people who seek help for a gambling problem and gamblers who are “self-excluded” from casinos. The people who fall into this latter category are addicts who have asked casinos to remove them from the premises if they are spotted on the gaming floor.

The council’s annual gambling conference draws health care providers, people who provide treatment and services to gambling addicts, educators, members of law enforcement agencies and recovering gamblers. Also speaking this year were Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez, commissioner of the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and Robert Williams, acting executive director of the New York State Gaming Commission.

In a joint letter to conference guests, Gonzalez-Sanchez and Williams wrote: “With regards to the notion of expanded gaming in New York State, we want you to know that policymakers understand the serious nature of problem gambling. The law regarding the siting of any such casino has specific language holding gaming facilities accountable to the resources they provide.”

In his talk, Klein described five types of gamblers. There’s the social gambler, who gambles for entertainment and “a little excitement.” Although the social gambler isn’t given to excess, “a lot of problem gamblers start off this way,” Klein said.

Problem gamblers dedicate more time and money to gambling, while pathological gamblers consider gambling the most important thing in life. There are also gamblers who are involved with organized crime, and professional gamblers who make their living through gambling.

According to Klein, compulsive gambling has three phases: winning, losing and desperation. During the last phase, “the gambler becomes obsessed with getting even to cover the money he’s lost through gambling” and makes huge withdrawals from the family bank account and takes out secret loans.

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