Responsible Gaming Education Week, or RGEW, is held the first full week of every August. The tradition began back in 1998 when the American Gaming Association, or AGA, decided to sponsor an annual, week-long awareness program to help educate people about the perils of problem gambling. Education is a critical component in the prevention of potentially devastating problem gambling disorders. By raising awareness of the issues that surround problem gambling, the association hopes to positively impact those who engage in the potentially addictive practice of wagering money for fun.
In 2014, the dates of RGEW spanned August 4-8. Different areas of the country celebrated the week with various awareness events. For example, a joint effort between the neighboring states of Iowa and Minnesota brought some of the area's available addiction treatments to light. An addiction treatment center in northern Iowa called Prairie Ridge Addiction Treatment Services recently expanded its treatment services to include those who are addicted to gambling. Problem gambling-focused groups, along with a new clinician hired specifically to help treat those with gambling issues, now complement the services at the addiction treatment facility.
Prairie Ridge spokeswoman Kari Brown said that her facility is working hard to increase public awareness of gambling addiction. “We would rather educate people on the early signs and symptoms,” Brown explained, as opposed to dealing with untreated individuals who eventually find themselves in “dire need of help.” Substance abuse specialist Amy Ring added that the facility hopes at-risk citizens will “reach out for help before it gets very serious.”
Indeed, the consequences of gambling addiction are quite serious for some. According to a statistical report from Rehab International, 2.5 million Americans suffer from gambling addiction, and another 3 million could be classified as “problem gamblers.” The consequences of out-of-control gambling ruin lives every day. Here are just a few of the ways this addiction negatively impacts its victims and their families:
Financial and Economic Problems
For those without the self-control to stop, gambling debts can pile up quickly. Research suggests that up to two thirds of addicts with insurmountable debt turn to crime as a way to obtain the money they need (read here). In turn, the resulting financial and legal problems put extra demands on the country's prisons, legal systems, health care systems, and public assistance programs. Some of the worst case scenarios for those entrenched in gambling debt include home foreclosure, homelessness, bankruptcy, divorce, depression, crimes committed out of desperation, alcohol and substance abuse, and even suicide.
Addicts aren't the only ones who bear the painful brunt of their addiction. Family members, particularly spouses and children, often suffer at the hands of the addicted. Physical and psychological abuse are common in the homes a gambling addict. Tension over lost money is exacerbated by constant calls and threats from debt collectors and other creditors. Divorce is a common outcome in problem gambling households. Considering the fact that three out of five homes of problem gamblers have children, these findings paint a grim picture for youngsters hoping for a chance at a normal, safe, happy childhood.
Statistically speaking, children of problem gamblers are more likely to be abused, verbally and physically. They also commonly suffer from emotional neglect. According to Rehab International, these children are frequently left alone in casino parking lots as their parent goes in to get their gambling “fix.” To make matters worse, the children of gambling addicts are statistically more likely to become addicts themselves. It's a cycle that's difficult to break, but the AGA believes that increased awareness can help (See where to play happily while children are entertained).
Some types of addiction carry more of a negative stigma than others. Thanks to Hollywood, it is now “acceptable” and almost normal for a person to seek in-house addiction treatment for problems like alcohol and drug abuse. Gambling addiction, however, is usually not greeted with that same kind of empathy. Statistics suggest that only one fifth of all gambling addicts are able to maintain their professional work life while simultaneously feeding their addiction. Missed days at work and impaired co-worker relations due to personal stress all negatively impact a gambling addict's ability to hold down a job.
The AGA's “Get to Know Responsible Gaming” Campaign
This year, the AGA is encouraging members of the industry to “get to know” its gamers better, and to focus on those who game responsibly. A recent survey conducted by the association sheds some light on the habits of the typical casino gambler. Here are some highlights of what the survey found:
- Public support of casino gambling has climbed to an all-time-high. Nearly 90 percent of voters from both major political parties find gambling an acceptable activity.
- Conversely, the number of people who disapprove of gambling has dipped by 11 percent since 2009.
- Casino gamblers hail from all political parties. Approximately 39 percent are Democrats; 29 percent are Republicans; and 32 percent consider themselves to be “Independents.”
- Fifty-four percent of all gamblers set a budget for themselves before walking into a casino. That budget is usually less than $200.
- Most casino visitors are aware that they are unlikely to “strike it rich,” and agree they're mostly there for the games, food, and fun.
- Seventy percent of casino visitors hail from the mid to upper class.
- Nearly half of all casino visitors have earned a college degree.
- More than half of these gamblers fall between the ages of 21-49.
- Fifty-one percent of respondents believe that casinos should be taxed as any other business is taxed.
- Over half of the respondents (59 percent) feel that casinos help stimulate their local economy and are a critical part of America's economic recovery.
By “getting to know” the demographic that visit casinos, the AGA is hoping to better gauge when, where, and to whom they should cater their prevention efforts. This survey is just a part of that process. According to the AGA, the entire 2014 year will be devoted to “getting to know” the American gambler better so that prevention tactics can be improved and personal financial disasters can be avoided.