Program to help problem gamblers begins slowly

March 12, 2006

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/262336_gambling09.html

Program to help problem gamblers begins slowlySetting up prevention, treatment routine is ‘a complex endeavor’

Thursday, March 9, 2006

By SAM SKOLNIK
P-I REPORTER

Washington’s highly anticipated program to prevent problem gambling and treat those who have become hooked got off to such a slow start last year that advocates who fought for its passage pondered going back to lawmakers last fall to ask them to fix it.

But after months of concern over the sluggish launch of the program — just 44 addicted gamblers out of the thousands in need have so far been treated — the program is beginning to take flight.

“Considering how long the funding has been available, there have been some tremendous gains made,” said Jeff Marotta, who directs Oregon’s problem-gambling program and has been monitoring Washington’s effort. “It’s a very complex endeavor.”

Persistent lobbyists, hampered over the years by squabbling between state-run and private gambling vendors and tribal casinos, finally persuaded state legislators in April to approve the state’s first permanent program to address problem gambling.

The legislation followed years of explosive growth for legalized gambling in the state. The industry’s net receipts — what it took in as wagers less what it paid out in winning — have more than tripled since 1996, to almost $1.7 billion in fiscal 2005, according to the Washington state Gambling Commission.

Along with that growth has come a significant increase in the number of addicted gamblers statewide, a Seattle P-I special report in 2004 showed, as well as a growing range of societal costs, from increased bankruptcies and indebtedness to evidence of higher divorce, crime and suicide rates.

The program, signed into law by Gov. Christine Gregoire in May and started at the end of June, provided $1.5 million over a two-year period, including funds from the state lottery and a new tax on non-tribal card rooms, bingo halls and pull-tab purveyors that earn profits of more than $50,000 a year.

Tribes that sponsor casinos have donated more than $550,000 to the program. The tribes, as sovereign nations, were not legally compelled to donate, but many have promised to make consistent contributions.

Providing assistance to problem gamblers, unlike alcoholics or drug addicts, is a relatively new field for state agencies. Fewer than 20 other states have similar programs. So Washington officials say they had relatively few road maps to use to set up a successful program, not including a $500,000 pilot program started in late 2002.

That program, administered by the Washington State Council on Problem Gambling, proved popular and successful. More than 220 gamblers had begun treatment before the money ran out in June 2003, forcing the program to fold.

The 2005 legislation for the new, permanent program allocated funding to the Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse within the state Department of Social and Health Services. In June, Linda Graves, a problem-gambling program administrator from Delaware, was hired to run it.

The DASA program is designed for people who believe they have developed problems with gambling, but who cannot afford to pay for counseling.

Qualified problem gamblers are eligible for as many as 20 counseling sessions, with an option to add sessions as necessary. Family members are also eligible for five sessions.

“We got into this service work because we saw this huge need,” said Janet SooHoo, deputy director of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service in Seattle, one of the most active treatment providers working with the state program.

“My concern is that word is not getting out there,” SooHoo said. “We’re trying desperately to tell the state that we need to do outreach to counter the advertising we see promoting gambling.”

Graves and her boss, DASA acting Director Doug Allen, admitted that the initial stages have been tough sledding.

“I needed to start basically from scratch,” Graves said.

First, a network of treatment providers had to be found and trained specifically to treat problem gamblers. And outreach efforts had to be implemented to let people know of the program’s existence.

None of those efforts has been fully completed.

DASA has contracted with 14 treatment provider agencies, about half of which are in the Puget Sound region. Graves said she expects to sign up perhaps six more agencies within the coming year.

Graves said that as outreach efforts improve, she expects many more problem gamblers to take advantage of the program — with a goal of as many as 1,000 before the end of 2007.

HELP AVAILABLE

Free screening is available during National Problem Gambling Awareness Week, which runs through Friday this year, for people who believe they have a gambling problem.

For help, call:

  • The Washington State Council on Problem Gambling Helpline: 800-547-6133. www.wscpg.org
  • Gamblers Anonymous: 206-361-8413, or toll-free at 877-727-5050. www.gamblersanonymous.orgTo read the P-I’s special report, “Out of Luck: Washington’s Gambling Problem,” click on www.seattlepi.com/specials/gambling

    P-I reporter Sam Skolnik can be reached at 206-448-8334 or samskolnik@seattlepi.com.

    © 1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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    One Response to “Program to help problem gamblers begins slowly”


    1. Very interesting site… I wish I could build one like yours!nancy


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