Gambling opportunities have spread like wildfire in the United States in the last few years. Ohio recently opened four new casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Toledo (read more). Massachusetts has its eye one three new casino construction opportunities (click here). Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware have all legalized online gambling when affiliated with land-based casino gaming. In today's struggling economy, the U.S. is opening its arms to casinos and gaming like never before. Gaming drives in revenue, which helps the struggling economy. Much of that revenue, unfortunately, comes at the expense of compulsive gamblers who are easily hypnotized by the glittering, yet often elusive, prospect of striking it rich. Compulsive gambling affects approximately two and a half million Americans each year, according to the Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators. State governments stand to benefit from compulsive gamblers, but they're doing little in return to help support citizens with addiction problems.
States Get Richer, Addicts Get Poorer
According to the Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators, 37 of the 50 states contribute money to state-funded gambling treatment programs. That contribution adds up to approximately $58 million per year, a pithy sum compared to the billions of dollars of yearly revenue state governments glean from casinos, lotteries, and other legalized activities. The state of Connecticut claimed over $6.5 million in gambling revenue in 2012, yet contributed less than $2 million to state-funded gambling treatment centers and hotlines. Pennsylvania claimed several billion dollars in similar revenue in 2010, yet contributed less than $18 million to its Problem Gambling Treatment fund over the past five years. It seems that state governments are much more willing to take money from compulsive gamblers than they are to help treat these peoples' devastating problems.
New Jersey Online Casinos Must Contribute Rehabilitation Funding Minimum
Small steps are being taken toward change. When New Jersey governor Chris Christie recently legalized casino-affiliated online gaming in his state (read this), he added a provision: every brick and mortar casino affiliated with online betting must contribute $250,000 per year to New Jersey's gambling rehabilitation fund. Christie said the state's current rehabilitation budget of $850,000 per year would enjoy a healthy boost from this requirement. The governor's move marks the first time casinos have been legally required to contribute to their home state's gaming addiction treatment fund.
Massachusetts Slashes Rehabilitation Fund
Even as Christie made provisions to enhance his state's rehabilitation fund, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick slashed similar funding in his state by over $1 million. Massachusetts senator Stanley Rosenberg said that addicted gamblers in his state were crossing state lines to gamble, losing their money there, then bringing their financial problems back home. He cites this as one of the major reasons why he supported the construction of three new casinos in Massachusetts. The governor's recent budget cut, unfortunately, will do nothing to help the increased number of addicts that are bound to crop up with the addition of the three new casinos.
Treating Compulsive Gambling: No Easy Task
States that want a hand in treating their gaming addicts have a huge task on their hands. Not only must they come up with funding in today's penny-pinching economy, but the gamblers themselves must be receptive to treatment. Treating compulsive gambling is not a simple task. First of all, the gambler must be willing to admit that he has a problem. This is the most essential, yet often the most difficult, step in the treatment process. The addict may find it much easier to simply bury his head in the sand, continuing problematic behaviors in hopes that a streak of luck will soon change everything for the better.
Types of Treatment
The self-help group "Gamblers Anonymous" may be the most well-known treatment option for addicted gamblers, but it is certainly not the only one available (find more nonprofit organizations). In addition to self-help groups, which require an extraordinary amount of personal strength and motivation on the part of the addict, treatments are possible through the venues of psychotherapy and medication.
A therapist may try several different rehabilitative techniques with an addicted gambler. One technique is behavioral therapy, in which the undesirable behavior is systematically extinguished and replaced with more positive behaviors. A behavioral therapist may work with the patient on recognizing his unhealthy urges and replacing them with more constructive behaviors, such as going for a walk or calling a friend on the phone.
Another effective treatment option is cognitive therapy. A cognitive therapist helps an addict figure out what negative or destructive messages he or she is sending himself, such as, “If I don't go to the casino, I might miss the chance of a lifetime,” or, “My wife will leave me if I don't provide for her.” The addict is then taught to modify harmful internal messages so that they are more positive, such as, "I can certainly survive the day without going to the casino," or, "My wife loves me whether I'm a millionaire or not."
Because the chemical brain patterns of compulsive gamblers are a lot like those of drug and alcohol abusers, some doctors prescribe narcotic antagonists to addicted gamblers. Narcotic antagonists like naloxone and naltrexone cause a chemical reaction in the brain that essentially diminishes the pleasure yielded from addictive behaviors. Because substance addiction is neurologically similar to gaming addiction, these medications have been found to be effective. Other psychotropic drugs like antidepressants and ADHD medication can help combat the contributing factors of gambling addiction, although they do not eradicate addiction itself.
With the growing number of gambling opportunities in the United States, more vulnerable people have found themselves face to face with addiction. Some, but not all, states contribute to an anti-addiction fund to help defeat the problem. The process of treating people with gambling addiction is costly and difficult, but New Jersey has found an innovative way to get casinos to contribute a small amount of money to the cause. As the gaming industry grows, state revenue will increase, as will the incidence of problem gamblers.