Ohio hikes problem gambling funds

$3.8M for gambling addiction is double last year’s total.

By Brian Kollars - Staff Writer

The state of Ohio, awash with new gambling outlets, will distribute $3.8 million to counties for gambling addiction treatment and prevention services this fiscal year — more than double last year’s total.

Experts say the state does not have a significant issue with problem gamblers, but they are concerned that could change. The state’s newest racino will open Thursday in Warren County, joining four casinos and many other forms of gambling in the state.

“The scope isn’t on a grand level like alcoholism, but we don’t know what the changing landscape will do,” said Dr. Jill Gomez of Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren and Clinton Counties. “Most people can gamble once or twice a year and not have a problem. When you have access, things change.”

The state’s contribution to counties for gambling addiction and prevention services will increase 171 percent, from $1.4 million last fiscal year. The increase is funded through casino taxes. Casinos, which pulled in gross revenue of $352 million over the first five months of this fiscal year, are taxed at 33 percent and 2 percent of that total is earmarked for the Problem Gambling & Addictions Fund.

Under state guidelines, 60 percent of the money must be spent on prevention; the rest goes toward treatment.

“We’re not sure what this will look like in a year, 18 months, two years,” said Greta Mayer of the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties. “We are primarily focusing on education and awareness.”

Young gamblers

The Ohio Lottery commissioned a survey in 2012 that indicated 2.8 percent of Ohioans are problem gamblers or at risk. For young adults, that number was 6-7 percent, which is why a large chunk of funds are targeted at youth.

“Over in Athens, they have kids doing internet gambling, and there’s dogfighting,” said Stacey Frohnapfel-Hasson of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “Or there could be underground poker. In different places of the state there are different things to address.”

Montgomery County will get a new racino next year. Frohnapfel-Hasson was in Moraine last week to help conduct a two-day training session for clinicians and other stakeholders, in part because of new gambling coming to the area.

“We don’t have a huge population of problem gamblers, but as soon as the racinos open up — we know from other communities — having accessibility will increase the population of people with addictive behavior,” said Andrea Hoff, Director of Community Engagement for Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services.

John Bohley, executive director of the Butler County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board, said some of the money his agency receives goes to Community Behavior Health, which is developing expertise in problem gambling and provides counseling services at outpatient facilities in Hamilton and Middletown.

Reserve fund

The state anticipates $6.1 million will go into its problem gambling fund this year, with some money going to a reserve fund to help pay for an in-depth gambling survey in 2016-17.

Twelve counties in southwest Ohio will receive a total of $853,000. Montgomery County will get $175,368 while Butler ($121,629) and Clark/Greene/Madison ($112,852) also get more than $100,000.

“We started with zero and now we’re spending millions on it. We are full-speed ahead,” said Laura Clemens, responsible gambling program coordinator for the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

Some critics say the money being spent isn’t enough, and that the gambling industry isn’t interested in curbing reckless behavior. Rob Walgate, vice president of the American Policy Roundtable based in Strongsville, said gambling addictions are especially difficult to treat.

“If someone does $5,000 of drugs in two weeks, we’ll notice because they’d probably be dead,” he said. “If they lose $5,000 gambling it doesn’t come to fruition until somebody hits rock bottom.”

Nearly 6,000 people were screened for possible gambling problems at mental health and drug agencies across the state from 2011-2013. More than 200 were treated at six “best practice” programs, including one in Cincinnati. In July, the state added gambling questions to its screening process at all addiction treatment agencies.

Meanwhile, the state’s problem gambling helpline fielded 776 calls in October; more than half came from friends or family members of individuals they deemed needed help.

According to a recent survey by the National Council on Problem Gambling, $60.6 million in public funds is invested annually for problem gambling services. Ohio’s per-capita allocation lags below the national average, according to the study.

Lottery tickets popular

A survey by the University of Dayton’s Business Research Group, funded by Montgomery County ADAMHS, found that 64 percent of county adults gamble. That is higher than the statewide average of 57 percent. The county’s percentage of problem or at-risk gamblers is 3.8 percent, higher than the state average of 2.8 percent but below other urban areas.

It also found that 44 percent of survey respondents purchase lottery tickets, by far the most popular form of gambling in the county. At-risk gamblers spend an average of $61 per month on tickets.

Another key finding: 90 percent of at-risk or problem gamblers said a member of their family has had an alcohol or drug problem.

Experts agree that more gambling options mean more problem gamblers, but identifying what triggers this — and when — is not easy.

The effects of table games may not be seen for five to seven years after their launch, said Scott Anderson, problem gambling treatment coordinator for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. But video gaming can be a factor within a year: “Those games are prone for rapid onset pathology,” he said.

“Some can play blackjack without consequence and play poker and lose their house,” Anderson added, noting that gambling has become socially acceptable.

“When I stopped at the gas station this morning, I could get a NASCAR jacket if I bought the right candy bar. I could win something with my Coke bottle cap. Any sporting event with kids, there’s a 50-50 raffle. Think of how kids are socialized in this as a regular activity.”

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