Maryland’s gamblers struggle to find help (1)
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Michael Rosen listens to the wreckage that the $1bn gambling industry has wrought in Maryland. He listens to the man, $400,000 in debt, whose wife threw him out and told him he couldn’t see his kids again unless he gave up gambling. He listens to the gambler who went on a three-day blackjack binge without sleeping and rarely eating. He listens to the woman facing a jail term for embezzling $135,000 to feed her gambling addiction.
Rosen, who helps manage the state’s increasingly busy 1-800-GAMBLER S188 helpline, commiserates with the desperate and directs many to Gamblers Anonymousmeetings. But he can’t suggest any free treatment programmes because Maryland, one of the United States’s most concentrated casino markets, doesn’t offer any. That sets it apart from Delaware, Connecticut and many other casino states, even as experts believe that gambling addiction in Maryland is on the rise.
The problem is “absolutely getting worse”, according to Rosen, a recovering gambling addict who works as a counsellor for the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling at the University of Maryland.
The state’s toll-free hotline has taken calls in the past year from more than 600 people seeking help. That is already up from 533 calls the year before and 431 calls in 2013. Nearly 900 people have legally barred themselves from stepping S188 inside a casino through the state’s Voluntary Exclusion Program. Two years ago, only 204 people were on the list.
In the first five months of this year, police were called to Maryland casinos four times to respond to children or seniors being left in cars while their parents or caregivers were inside gambling, according to reports compiled by theMaryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission. And the 893 people who had themselves banned from casinos? Thirty-seven couldn’t stay away and were reported for trespassing on casino property. Many of the problem gamblers most in need of help don’t have the funds or health insurance to cover private addiction treatment.
“When gamblers reach out to us, they’re in crisis … it’s out of control, they don’t have any money,” said Deborah Haskins, president of theMaryland Council on Problem Gambling. “When the person S188 doesn’t have treatment as an option, it’s like you’re putting a brick wall in front of them. You’re commending them for taking the first steps, but then you have nothing else to provide them. It’s very frustrating.”