March Is Problem Gambling Awareness Month

Stephen Crosby, chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, was among those who addressed the consortium. (JOHN SUCHOCKI PHOTO)

SPRINGFIELD – Steve Keel, director of problem gambling services for the state’s department of public health, said the commonwealth “needs to do more with getting people who suffer with problem gambling to go for treatment.”

He said there is a need for “more awareness” in helping individuals overcome feelings of shame and isolation, so they will access treatment.

The Northeastern Problem Gambling Consortium’s Monday kickoff to Problem Gambling Awareness Month sought to be a step in that direction. Casino gambling looks to begin this June, for the first time in the state, with the opening of a single slots venue.

Speakers at Monday’s event included Keel, as well as the chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, who called for a region-wide approach to the issue, and the executive director of the National Problem Gambling Council. 

Most importantly, the morning gathering at the MassMutual Center, near where groundbreaking will soon start on Western Massachusetts’ casino, heard from a 62-year-old peer counselor, whose gambling problems in her 40s landed her a two-year prison sentence at 50. She now works for a gambling specific treatment program in Connecticut.

“I grew up in a good family. I put myself through law school. I never had a mental health issue or an addiction,” said the woman who introduced herself as Shirley. She added she “came to gambling late in life” and that it cost her everything, from her self-esteem to her career.

“The disease of gambling is different from alcohol and drugs. It has an element of hope in it. The idea, in a place like Springfield, is that it can give release from a hard life,” she said, “with a push of a button. Gambling holds hope that something good can happen if you keep doing it. . . Sometimes it happens. Someone wins. People get hooked.”

Speaking on GamblingThe Northeastern Problem Gambling Consortium hosted a panal discussion at the MassMutual Center to discuss gambling problems in the state.

She added that to someone with problem gambling, two sevens in a row on a slot machine is not a loss but “an almost win.”

“It is a brain disease. My brain works differently than yours,” she said of the neuroscience behind problem gambling. “There is nothing more exciting than winning money. The money is the drug.”

The idea, in a place like Springfield, is that it can give release from a hard life.

She said a 28-day stay in a residential facility and Gamblers Anonymous “brought her back.” She said her prison sentence was warranted for breaking the law, but that being a convicted felon made getting employment next to impossible. She added, however, that “what happened to me was the best thing, it got me into recovery.”
Anne-Gerard Flynn | aflynn@repub.comBy Anne-Gerard Flynn | 
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on March 02, 2015 at 5:21 PM, updated March 03, 2015 at 8:56 AM