SCHENECTADY — State officials kicked off Problem Gambling Awareness Month on Tuesday at Rivers Casino, one of the busiest of the non-Indian casinos opened in New York since late 2016.
An estimated 2 million Americans have some type of gambling disorder, said Robert Williams, executive director of the New York State Gaming Commission. The outreach effort is designed to help prevent these latent tendencies from becoming a problem or to treat those who have developed a problem.
“For most people, gambling remains just a game, but for others, it is not,” he said. “Many of these people need help to combat the effects.”
Rivers Casino & Resort General Manager Justin Moore said preventive efforts have long been a priority for the Schenectady casino, its parent corporation Rush Street Gaming, and the other casinos Rush Street operates.
Rivers trains all new employees on how to recognize signs of problem gambling and how to recommend help; it includes the HOPE-NY message in all of the millions of dollars of advertising and promotion it runs; and it partners with the Northeast Resource Center on Problem Gambling.
“They’re a fantastic resource for guests that do recognize that they need assistance,” Moore said.
Williams outlined the three focus points of Problem Gambling Awareness Month, the theme of which is “Awareness and Action”:
- Provide education and increase consumer awareness;
- Provide gambling opportunities responsibly;
- Provide support services and resources to those who need them.
These will be attempted with:
- A public service campaign on 65 TV stations and 62 radio stations;
- A complementary initiative by the state Lottery division with messages on its games and at thousands of points of sale;
- And by ensuring each licensed gambling facility and horse racing facility shares the goal and spreads the message.
The state Gaming Commission maintains a 24-hour hotline — 1-877-8HOPE-NY — through which trained clinicians offer confidential support and referrals.
State officials will be traveling to other casinos and video gaming/horse racing racinos to spread the word about Problem Gambling Awareness Month. Rivers was a fitting site for Tuesday’s kickoff: It is near the Gaming Commission’s downtown headquarters, it pulls in the second-most revenue of the four non-Indian casinos in New York state and it pays the most gaming taxes among the four.
Since Rivers opened in February 2017, guests have played over $3.72 billion on the slot machines and electronic table games there and lost about $325 million of it. Hundreds of millions more dollars have been gambled, won and lost on table games, card games and sporting events.
One hundred years ago, Prohibition did not end alcoholism, and four years ago, limited legal casino gambling in New York state did not create problem gambling.
Casino legalization did, however, give prople with problems glittering new places to get into trouble.
Moore said he, Rivers and Rush Street all recognize this and are proactive participants in fighting problem gambling.
“Identifying problem signs early before it becomes a problem, I think that’s key,” said Moore, who has a relative with a severe gambling problem. “I know firsthand how it can affect a family, it’s really important to me and my property to make sure we’re participating to the fullest.”
In his 17 years in the casino industry, he’s gone from a small-town Nevada casino with no problem gambling prevention efforts to Las Vegas casinos that provided initiatives without coordination with the state to the coordinated efforts in New York.
The program here is one of the best in the nation, he said, though Massachusetts is catching up as it makes strides with its own young casino industry.
“I’m very impressed with what we do in New York state compared to other jurisdictions I’ve worked in,” Moore said. “They had it, but there wasn’t the awareness. That’s the difference.”
Williams, head of the Gaming Commission, said provisions to fight problem gambling were written into the state’s enabling legislation.
“It illustrates to all the entities that come into this state that responsible gaming is something that we are taking seriously and we expect you to do the same,” he said.
Williams said the question of whether increased opportunity to gamble increases gambling addiction has been a continuing interest of his. He eventually came upon the behavioral science research of Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Howard Shaffer, founder of the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders.
Broadly speaking, Williams said, Shaffer’s conclusion is that opening a new casino causes a small but measurable uptick in problem gambling that gradually subsides.
“The individuals who had that particular predilection toward gambling most likely had an outlet by which they could have satisfied that” urge before the casino opened, Williams said. “The problem didn’t just appear because we happened to do this. In New York state there’s always been opportunities to gamble, whether it be through legal means or illegal means.”
Balancing any uptick in gambling addiction is the regulatory structure imposed on legal gambling facilities, and an increased ability to identify problem gamblers and offer help because they’re in a public facility.
Speaking at Tuesday’s kickoff, Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Commission on Problem Gambling, said the partners involved in Problem Gambling Awareness Month each have a different mission toward a shared goal.
“We’ve got to make sure that we prevent it, that we treat it, that we deal with it, that we educate,” he said.
After 25 years of advocacy in the subject, he believes the message needs to be heard the other 11 months of the year, too, and that officials need to “make sure that every time we talk about gambling we talk about problem gambling.”