More than 35,000 Ohioans were screened for problem gambling in 2015 — an increase of 10,000 over the previous year — and just over 1,000 were diagnosed and/or treated for gambling disorder, another slight increase, according to the Ohio Department of Mental Health Addiction Services.
For many residents in Butler County and Ohio, gambling is just another social activity they do for enjoyment that doesn’t cause any harm. But for many others, gambling has ruined families and destroyed lives.
It is estimated that more than 18,500 Butler County residents are gambling at moderate or high risk.
“U.S. Bank arena doesn’t even have the capacity to hold that many individuals,” said Lori Higgins, executive vice president of Envision Partnerships, a substance abuse and gambling prevention group. “According to surveys done exclusively in Butler County, we’re seeing that youth under the age of 18 are more likely to participate in high-risk gambling activities than adults.”
Mindy Muller, president and CEO of Community Development Professionals LLC, said “as casinos, lotteries and scratch-offs have become increasingly normalized in communities, including Butler County, we see people, particularly those vulnerable to high risk behaviors, become more and more addicted to gambling.
“As access to gambling in Ohio has increased, the problem has increased with it,” she said.
That is why a unique partnership has been formed to create a March Madness campaign to bring awareness to gambling addiction.
Envision Partnerships (EP) and Community Development Professionals(CDP) have joined forces to put on a month-long campaign to discuss the ravages of gambling addiction.
EP, formerly known as Alcohol & Chemical Abuse Council, are local experts in prevention and education services for behavioral health issues (gambling, drinking, drugs, etc). The organization started in 1964 in response to concerns about alcoholism. CDP helps nonprofits organize community projects and secure funding for those projects.
Muller said March has been set aside nationally by the National Council on Problem Gambling as Problem Gambling Awareness Month.
Higgins’ said her organization has partnered with the state of Ohio to educate Butler County residents on how to identify problem gambling and set boundaries for low-risk gambling. In 2014, Envision Partnerships convened an advisory board comprised of representatives from the community to advise the agency on appropriate messaging, modes of communication and how to effectively reach various segments of the community.
“This year’s campaign uses the buzz brought on by March Madness and includes posters, brochures, billboards, movie ads and ads on the message boards at the county’s four BMV locations,” Muller said. “EP is trying to reach as broad an audience as possible.”
Dealing with gambling data
Seven years ago Ohio became the 39th state to legalize casinos, as Issue 3 passed amending the state Constitution and allowing four casinos to be built in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo. In addition, seven racinos, including Miami Valley Gaming in Turtlecreek Twp. near Monroe, have been constructed since then.
Approximately 220,000 Ohioans engage in at-risk gambling with 30,000 engaging in problem gambling behaviors. Of Ohioans that participate in casino gambling, 8.2 percent are estimated to be at at-risk or meet criteria for problem gambling, compared to 4.8 percent for lottery and 5.1 percent for other gambling, according to Ohio For Responsible Gambling, a group made up of the Ohio Lottery Commission, the Ohio Casino Control Commission, the Ohio State Racing Commission and The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Ohioans with alcohol or other drug addiction are more likely to have a gambling problem. Problem gambling rates among teens and young adults have been shown to be 2-3 times that of adults.
Tristyn Eppley, a gambling prevention specialist for EP, said “as we’ve seen the casinos and racinos emerging as well as the increasing access to gambling via apps and online venues, and the explosion of fantasy sports, it’s certainly becoming a bigger issue than in years prior.
“Gambling problems may be one of the best kept secrets in our society. Informal conversations and presentations throughout the community have provided us with many anecdotal stories of the impact of the issue to families and employers,” she said.
When gambling addiction ruins a family
‘A Hamilton woman recently shared her story with the Journal-News about how gambling has pushed her family to the brink of ruin. The woman, who is in her early 60s, asked this newspaper not to use her name.
She said even though the lottery has been in existence for a while, when casinos came to the area “that is when it all went bad.”
The woman said her husband’s gambling addiction has tore up their family, left fear and uncertainty as daily companions, plus, the feeling of failure in every step.
“A few years ago my husband was hurt at work and was on disability, and the boredom set in,” she recalled. “So now and then the trip to an Indiana casino with some of his family started. Once every three months or so he would tag along. Then he would start going on his own, and the process began.”
That process is now a three times a week trip to Miami Valley Gaming, or the newly-named Jack (formerly Horseshoe) Casino or to Indiana for some gambling, she said.
His habit involves taking money out of the family’s saving’s account.
“It’s been emptied out,” she said. “There are times he will go to the store and pay for the groceries, but will get extra cash back so he can gamble. I show the credit card statement to him, but he just lies, and then tells more lies.”
The couple is moving past middle age and into the phase of retirement. But her husband is blowing through his disability money and is now fixated on her 401k, she said.
“He thinks we can take money out of it, but I keep asking ‘How are we going to live?’ We could live another 30 years but what will we have to live on if we don’t have any money?”
“His family calls him and says, ‘Come on, let’s just go for a little bit.’ This is their act of kindness to cheer him up since he could not return to work after his injury and surgery,” she said.
And for her, it has come down to a few simple questions: “Where does it end? How do you stop it? How do you get them to admit they have a problem?
“It is affecting our lives in more ways than one: trust, emotions, finances, security, and family,” she explained. “He doesn’t believe he has a problem.”
The couple has three adult sons and they have pressed their father to stop gambling and to seek help. If he continues, would it break up the family?
“We’ve never encountered this type of problem in our marriage,” she said. “If this did break up our family he wouldn’t have enough money to live on, on his own. I would struggle too. He’s not a bad person - this is a disease.”
Banning yourself and other tactics used to deal with gambling addiction
Jessica Franks of the Ohio Casino Control Commission told the Journal-News that problem gamblers can ban themselves from the state’s four casinos.
Franks said the program gives individuals the ability to ban themselves from a casino facility for one year, five years or their lifetime.
Once the request is approved, the person banned is not allowed to enter any Ohio casino during the length of the self-imposed ban.
According to data provided by Franks, as of February 16, 2016 the Ohio Casino Control Commission has accepted 2,069 applications from residents in 16 states and one Canadian Province for the voluntary exclusion program.
Where to get help
There are several resources for those who want to learn about the signs of problem gambling or get help for an addiction. Envision Partnerships is a partner in the website playitsafeohio.org.
This resource provides good information about gambling, the warning signs and where to get help. EP offers classes to community groups and social services agencies dealing with high-risk populations to educate them about what problem gambling is and refer them to help as needed.
In Butler County, Community Behavioral Health has treatment services specifically to address gambling addiction. The state of Ohio also runs a problem gambling help line where callers can talk to someone and get referred to a local agency for help. That number is 1-800-589-9966.
EP is also working in various school districts in Butler County educating middle and high school students about the dangers and fallacies involved with adolescent gambling.
“Awareness education is also being promoted in other venues for adults. We are also working on community awareness projects,” Eppley said. “These projects are centered around providing low-risk gambling education, awareness of the potential dangers associated with fantasy sports, and promoting the Ohio problem gambling helpline number.”