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Problem Gambling a Concern as Rhode Island Prepares for Table Games

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


As Twin River casino continues its preparations for the implementation of table games, Rhode Islanders are bracing themselves for increases in problem gambling.

After Question 1 was approved in November’s election, the Lincoln casino hopes to open tables to customers on July 1st. Twin River is contemplating a gaming mix with Blackjack, Roulette, Craps Tables, Mini Baccarat’s and a variety of poker-based games including Texas hold’em. Some Ocean State residents are preparing for the worst.

“I’m absolutely worried about it,” said former Vice President of the Rhode Island Council on Problem Gambling John Mongelli. “Specifically because there’s been no prevailing study to assess the extent of the problem before table games were implemented.”

Mongelli argues that without an accurate measure of Rhode Island’s current troubles with gambling addiction, it will be difficult to identify, analyze and remedy the problem in the future. He also worries about the social consequences for the Lincoln community.

“There’s a saying in the industry that proximity equals prevalence,” said Mongelli. “The closer to the casino, the higher amount of problem gamblers you’ll find in the community.”

Good, Clean Fun

Despite the negative stigmas inextricably linked with casino gaming, Twin River staff members insist that they aim to provide a safe source of amusement. In addition, a variety of services are offered for those addicted to gambling, including a problem gambling awareness program for employees, player self-exclusion programs, and funding for studies aimed at gambling addiction.

“We know that the majority of the playing public looks at gaming as a form of entertainment and that they are responsible in their gaming,” said spokesperson Patti Doyle. “That said, we fully recognize that there are those who need help and we collectively have an obligation to help them get it.”

Seeking Help

Whether or not there will be state-funded treatment services available to problem gamblers in Rhode Island hasn’t always been certain. Earlier this year, state legislators eliminated funding for compulsive gambling programs altogether before changing their decision soon after.

“When the Speaker and I learned that this funding was inadvertently eliminated, we immediately found the resources to restore these essential services,” said Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed in August. “The Senate remains deeply committed to ensuring that those who have compulsive or gambling addictions receive the necessary support to seek treatment and overcome this challenge.”

When the Assembly realized it had cut the program, they reinstated $50,000 while Newport Grand and Twin River combined to raise an additional $50,000, ultimately reaching a total of $100,000. The approval of Question One will also result in annual payments of $100,000 from Twin River to the Rhode Island Lottery to be used at its discretion for problem gambling programs.

Still, Mongelli believes that more can and must be done.

“The state has never made adequate provisions to provide problem gamblers with treatment and they haven’t helped raise awareness,” said Mongelli.

A Model For Success?

When it comes to improving problem gambling treatment, Mongelli says Rhode Island needs to take cues from its neighbor.

In the 2013 fiscal year, approximately $1.4 million dollars will go towards Massachusetts programs that treat compulsive gamblers. The money, which comes from a small percentage of unclaimed lottery winnings, will be particularly important in the coming years as plans to build three in-state casinos continue to develop. According to the Communications Director for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling Margot Cohoon, casino gaming represents a new threat to residents of the Commonwealth.

“Table games present an opportunity for players to chase a high and compensate for bigger and bigger losses,” said Cohoon, who likens a player’s gradual bet increases to a beer-drinker’s steadily increasing alcohol tolerance.

The MCCG also offers certificates for certified problem gaming specialists to help better treat patients. With approximately 40 specialists currently registered, Cohoon says the group is eagerly training more individuals in preparation for the casinos. By the times the casinos are operating, Cohoon hopes to have over 100 experts registered.

Mongelli believes preemptive measures and awareness raising practices will make a difference in effectively treating compulsive gamblers.

“We need to stay ahead of the curve,” said Mongelli. “Not ignore the curve.”


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