No sure bet for problem gamblers

DOVER — More sports wagering opportunities are coming to Delaware.

Will additional problem gamblers emerge too?

That’s no sure bet, state officials said this week.

The potential effects of upcoming single game propositions will be monitored, and that’s a guarantee.

“We don’t know whether the percentage of people who suffer from problem gambling will increase with the expansion of sports betting, but it is something that we will watch for, along with the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems,” said Greg Valentine, Director of Behavioral Health Services for the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

“We will work with DCGP to adjust our outreach and treatment services if needed.”

The First State is moving quickly after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for expanded sports wagering in Delaware’s three casinos, and the system may be in place by June. Lottery and casino staff are training for a launch next month.

The DCPG serves about 1,500 people a year, and works with an approximately $1.4 million budget contracted through the state “to treat, prevent, inform and educate the public about gambling addiction,” Mr. Valentine said.

With decades of experience evaluating wagering addiction, DCGP Assistant Executive Director Jerry Tiano has cautious hope that no widespread trouble is coming.

“Our demand ebbs and flows and I look for patterns,” Mr. Tiano said. “There’s no data showing that the addition of venues has added a demand for our services. Will this be different? I don’t know.”

Three-wager sports parlays have been available in Delaware for years, along with online gambling, fantasy football leagues and casinos, so bettors have had a chance to risk their money for a long time now. Those who haven’t already bet on sports would have to study up to do so, Mr. Tiano said.

“Everybody is going ‘Wow, I wonder what it’s going to do?’ and that’s something that nobody can really say for certain right now,” Mr. Tiano said. “The suspicion is that there’s not going to be a lot of impact on somebody who hasn’t done it before in some form.”

Also, Mr. Tiano said, “I thought the Internet would create an explosion but it hasn’t happened.”

‘A brain disease’

According to Mr. Valentine, “Just like substance use disorder, problem gambling is a brain disease that, in this case, involves a process instead of a substance. And just like substance use disorder, problem gambling is treatable.

“When people in need call the confidential helpline at the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, they will be connected to the appropriate treatment services.”

The Council, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has 12 employees, including full-time and contract workers.

Staff and counselors representing the DCGP make no moral judgments about betting, but are committed to helping those who do it to detrimental excesses.

“We take no position on the existence of gambling or whether its’ good or bad,” Mr. Tiano said. “We’re neutral on that.”

Problem gamblers remain, and the Council takes thousands of calls annually. That traffic has decreased somewhat due to an enhanced website, but contacts continue daily.

“I don’t expect problem gamblers to evolve in huge numbers,” Mr. Tiano said. “Sure we’ll add some but if we do we’re there to help them.”

The Council has a free and confidential help line — 888-850-8888 — available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

According to the Council, “Trained helpline personnel can assess your situation and make appropriate referrals. All members of our staff are trained in crisis intervention and stabilization.”

More information is available online at deproblemgambling.org.

“If somebody has a problem and takes the first step to admitting it, then gambling for them is never the same,” Mr. Tiano said. “If they keep coming back for help in some form then they still have a chance to save themselves.”

The Delaware Lottery contributes one percent of the state’s profits from video lottery, table games and charitable gaming organizations to the Department of Health and Social Services to help fund initiatives that address problem gambling in Delaware, Director Vernon Kirk said. Total contributions to date (through April 2018) are $35,134,600.

Budget for help

The Fiscal Year 2018 budget for the DCGP was set at $1,427,842. According to information provided by the Delaware Division of Health and Social Services, provisions DSAMH-funded contract include:

1, Treatment

12-month Treatment Targets:

• Up to 2,250 individual sessions annually

• Up to 60 group sessions annually

• Up to 50 no-shows annually

• On average, clients in individual treatment will stay in treatment for at least 8 sessions.

2, Prevention:

• Public Information, Education and Outreach; Media

The contractor will conduct a comprehensive gambling prevention program throughout the State. The program will:

Increase the general public’s exposure to the fact that assistance is available for problem gamblers and others affected by the disorder.

Increase inter-agency collaboration in an attempt to increase awareness of available services for problem gambling.

Encourage problem gamblers and other interested people to seek help and/or information by calling the helpline, and inform them that literature can be mailed to them upon request.

In many cases, either during or after presentations, people will engage staff in one-on-one conversation regarding personal experiences with problem gambling. Also, inform those seeking help that literature packs will be mailed to anyone seeking help.

In addition to providing information about DCGP services availability, provide information regarding locations of 12-step groups (i.e. Gamblers Anonymous, Gam-Anon).

3, School-Based Prevention and Education Program

DCGP will develop a network of contacts within the public elementary, middle, and high schools to promote universal and selective prevention interventions.

4. Training

DCGP will work in collaboration with DSAMH Training office to provide 15 gambling related trainings to health professionals, human service workers and others statewide.

DCGP will offer trainings in all three counties to ensure accessibility.

DCGP will offer information and education on problem gambling at all three Racinos for the benefit of their employees and work with them to establish a cooperative communication process to assist with reinforcement of their self-exclusion policies for problem gamblers

5, Criminal Justice

DCGP will collaborate with law enforcement agencies, Public Defender’s and Attorney General’s offices, Mental Health, TASC and other specialized Courts and community providers to integrate education on problem gambling into Re-entry and other related programs.

DCGP will provide educational programs on problem gambling for targeted populations and other related at-risk populations of the criminal justice system.

DCGP will develop and refine methods for screening, assessment and referral of individuals with problem gambling or at risk of developing problem gambling in the Criminal Justice system.

Delaware jumping in

In an earlier Associated Press story, Delaware Finance secretary Rick Geisenberger indicated that with the law and regulations already in place, Delaware could get a jump on other states in allowing sports betting.

“We’re going to look at the mix of products that makes sense,” Geisenberger told the AP.

The AP reported that the Delaware Sports Lottery has taken in about $46 million in football parlay wagers annually over the past two years, with an average net of about 25 percent.

After the oddsmaker contracted by Delaware takes its cut, the state takes half the remainder, with about 40 percent going to the casinos. The state’s horse racing industry also gets a percentage.

The state’s final profit amounted to about $2.2 million in fiscal 2017 and $9 million in fiscal 2018, according to state finance officials.

Mr. Geisenberger noted to the AP that while the average net take on parlay football bets has been about 25 percent, the average win on head-to-head, single-game bets is about five or six percent.

That means the state would need to see a sharp increase in wagering to match or exceed its current profit.

“We need a dramatic increase in the amount of wagering in order to keep the same amount of money” he cautioned in the AP story.

Gambling problem?

Questions to answer

According to the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, most problem gamblers answer “yes” to 1 or more of the following questions:

• Do you often think about gambling, such as reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next time you will play, or think of ways to get money to gamble?

• Do you ever need to gamble with more and more money top get the amount of excitement you are looking for?

• After losing money gambling, do you return another day in order to get even?

• Do you ever try to keep family or others from knowing the extent of your gambling?

• Do you ever borrow money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling?

Symptoms of a problem

According to the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, problem gambling is characterized by the following symptoms:

• Preoccupation: An increasing obsession with the idea of gambling

• Tolerance: Needing to bet more and more money to achieve the same rush

• Progression: Your situation gets worse over time

• Withdrawal: Extreme discomfort when unable to gamble for any reason

• Isolation: Hiding objects and physical isolation from friends and family

Problem gambling exhibits two unique symptoms:

• Chasing: Habitually trying to win back money lost gambling

• Bailout: Frequently seeking financial rescue to continue gambling

Warning signs

There are a few signs that indicate you may have a gambling problem. The more signs you have, the more important it is that you begin to take control now, before it’s too late. Here are some questions to ask yourself, according to the Delaware Council on Problem Gambling:

Do you have trouble controlling your gambling?

Once you start, can you easily stop? Can you walk away, or do you feel the need to gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar? Do you raise your bets to win back what you have lost?

Do you gamble even when you don’t have the money?

Are you gambling with the money you need to pay bills? Have you borrowed money from a friend or coworker? Did you max out your credit cards? Or worse—have you stolen or committed crimes to feed your habit?

Do you feel the need to be secretive about your gambling?

Do you keep a bank account just for your wins and losses? Do you lie about where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing to people close to you? Do you feel ashamed about what you’ve been doing?

Do your family and friends worry about you?

Have loved ones talked to you about your gambling? Have you had to deny that you have a problem? Is gambling putting a strain on your personal and professional relationships?

These are hard questions to answer, but there is still hope. It’s never too early to ask for help—but it’s never too late either.

Adult issues

According to the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, problem gambling for adults age 24 to 55 is characterized by:

• Onset of gambling activity at a young age, as early as prior to 10 years old.

• Have gambled on many different venues but will typically have a favorite.

• Possibly gambled for decades before it became a serious problem.

• Difficulty accepting gambling behavior as a problem and as a consequence, will live in denial for long periods.

• Maintaining long term recovery can be very difficult and is characterized by multiple relapses.

• Considerable amounts of time and energy are utilized in justifying gambling activity, and therefore, delaying the acceptance of it as a problem.

• Causing many serious problems with immediate as well as extended family members.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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