Maryland’s gamblers struggle to find help (2)

Maryland’s gamblers struggle to find help (2)

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The first casino in Maryland opened its doors five years ago this month. Since then, four more have debuted, and a giant, the $1.3bn MGM National Harbor in Prince George’s County, is set to open next year.From a financial standpoint, the casinos have been big winners for the state. Led by Maryland Live and Horseshoe Baltimore, they took in just over $1bn in the fiscal year ending 30 June. The state’s cut was $487m, with $388m earmarked for Maryland’s Education Trust Fund.

The rewards are well documented, but the S188  gambling fallout is harder to calculate.

The calls to the help line and the additions to the Voluntary Exclusion list represent just the tip of the addiction iceberg, experts say, and tens of thousands of Marylanders are in danger of becoming casualties.

“Many of the effects are not obviously visible,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “Things like bankruptcy for example, unpaid credit card debt. We call it the hidden addiction because it’s often a hidden driver of healthcare and criminal justice costs.”

Marie is one of the estimated 150,000 Marylanders who a 2009 state survey found suffer from a moderate to severe gambling addiction. (The state was supposed to release a follow-up study this year but decided to postpone it until after the opening of MGM National Harbor in 2016.)

Marie was a year into recovery when she pulled into a northern Virginia 7-Eleven in early 2013. She had already had herself officially banned from casinos in Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia. She was regularly attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings and was getting her life back in order after years of personal and professional chaos.

But the pull was still there. In the gas station, Marie, who agreed to be identified only by her middle name, bought an instant lottery ticket, took out a quarter and scratched to see if any numbers matched. Then she bought another. And another. Three hours later, down $400, Marie left the convenience store feeling guilty and ashamed, vowing, again, to kick gambling for good.

But for the self-employed, 51-year-old woman with a college degree, temptation lurks everywhere. Last year, Horseshoe Baltimore opened just few miles from where she lives. Travelling down Interstate 95 for work takes Marie past signs forMaryland Live, the state’s busiest and most profitable casino. And the opening of MGM National Harbor S188  next year lurks in her mind.

“I stopped going to Las Vegas,” she said, “but then S188 Las Vegas came to Maryland.”

The Gamblers Anonymous meetings provided comfort and relief, but getting additional treatment for gambling addiction was out of reach. “I was flat broke,” she said. “How do you get to go to one of these places when you’re flat broke?”




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