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Problem gambling programs get funding boost

Problem gambling programs get funding boost

Funding administered through state agency
Problem gambling programs get funding boost
The Rivers Casino in Schenectadyis pictured in 2017.
Photographer: Eric Jenks/For The Daily Gazette

SCHENECTADY -- More than 1,100 people who realize they have a gambling problem have asked to be banned from casinos, such as Rivers Casino & Resort, since they opened throughout the state.

This is according to state Gaming Commission Responsible Gaming Coordinator Carolyn Hapeman, who said the figure came from the state's voluntary self-exclusion program, which was created in February 2017.

The program allows for a person who believes he or she has a gambling problem to sign up at a casino, like Rivers, and request to be banned from all other state gaming facilities.

The opening of Rivers casino coincided with the creation of the program, which Hapeman admitted was not a coincidence.

The program was meant to help those who believe they have a gambling problem to stop themsevles from doing so anymore. And now, the state wants to provide more funding to help others determine whether they have a problem and to give them the resources to treat it.

The state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Service announced on Tuesday it would make $1.4 million in annual funding available to raise awareness and education about problem gambling.

The money would be made available through a five-year contract with a treatment organization to be selected through a request-for-proposal process, according to a press release. The chosen organization will work with OASAS.

The funding announcement was praised by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who said problem gambling was a “serious problem” in the state.

“With this annual commitment in state funding, we are working to ensure a balance between new gaming options and an increase in education about addiction,” Hochul said in a prepared statement. “We don’t only want to treat individuals struggling with addiction, but prevent people from becoming addicted and educate New Yorkers about the issue across the state.”

OASAS Commissioner Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez said gambling problems can have a “devastating impact on people and families” in the state.

“With this funding, we can bring the dangers of problem gambling to light and help New Yorkers who are struggling with this addiction find the help they need to live healthier lives,” Gonzalez-Sanchez said in a prepared statement.

The funding would go toward raising awareness about signs of problem gambling, but also provide information of prevention, treatment and recovery services. The money will also help educate healthcare professionals about problem gambling issues and how to assess them, according to the press release.

An annual problem gambling conference will also be created, as will a statewide resource and information center.

The press release said the training would include clinical treatment training for free for state-licensed healthcare practitioners in how to treat those who have a gambling problem. The money will also go toward creating curriculum for 30-hour prevention training, 60-hour core treatment training, and advanced prevention and clinical trainings, according to the press release.

It's expected there would be an increase in the number of people at risk of becoming a problem gambler when a casino opens in a community, according to Hapeman.

To get ahead of that, Hapeman said the state worked to create programs to help build awareness about problem gambling before the opening of four new casinos in the state, including the Rivers Casino & Resort.

This includes providing information for how people can identify if they have a problem with gambling. There is also a 24-hour confidential and toll-free hotline, administered by OASAS, where trained clinicians provide people with gambling problems materials on how to help themselves, and then follow up with them, according to Hapeman.

The state also instituted a $500 annual fee for all of the 7,500 slot machines and table games in the state’s four casinos, Hapeman said. The money goes toward providing access to treatment, prevention and education about problem gambling.

“We are doing more today than we have ever done before in terms of raising awareness and working together in regulatory prevention and treatment on all three fronts to make people aware of the problem,” Hapeman said.

Even with these efforts, the Center for Problem Gambling in Albany saw a 60-percent increase in enrollment in its gambling treatment program between February and December in 2017. 

While there is an uptick, William Hill, the center’s program director, said more time needs to pass before they can identify if that surge is a trend.

Hill said the center is the only comprehensive treatment option for problem gamblers in the Capital Region. He said it includes a community of gamblers that support each other, which he said is important for recovery.

“What concerns me the most is the availability of comprehensive treatment options for people,” Hill said. “Problem gamblers need a community in which to recover, and that doesn’t appear to be on the horizon for OASAS.”

Hill praised OASAS for committing to giving up to $1.4 million annually to help raise awareness, educate and provide access to treatment for problem gamblers. That’s because gambling has become normalized and that the dangers of it haven’t been publicized well.

“We need more resources in Albany to address what we need to do,” Hill said.

Those with gambling problems can call the state's 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-877-846-7369 or by texting HOPENY.

The request for proposals can be viewed at oasas.ny.gov. Responses are due on June 29.

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