Problem gambling gets new focus
Agencies cooperate to fight addiction
CAPITAL REGION Serious gamblers can find a wager just about anywhere they go in New York.
In addition to traditional state-sanctioned sites like off-track-betting parlors and horse racing tracks with video slots, gamblers can also visit some of the five massive casinos that have grown in every corner of the state. Or they can stay home and gamble online.
Gambling is everywhere these days, said James Maney, the executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling. And that’s what makes the creation of the Responsible Play Partnership so critical.
The multi-agency partnership announced Wednesday is a collaboration between the council, the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services and the New York State Gaming Commission aimed at ensuring enough is being done to curb gambling addiction. The collaboration is charged with tackling issues arising from problem gambling, from ensuring gambling venues comply with laws to evaluating self-exclusion policies. The partnership is developing a comprehensive, statewide self-exclusion policy for those who identify their problem and want to be prevented from entering a gambling facility. Self-exclusion procedures differ or are non-existent throughout the state’s various gaming venues.
“The continuing and significant evolution of gambling in New York makes the Responsible Play Partnership the right thing to do at the right time,” Maney said.
Part of the initiative will focus on ensuring compliance with the state’s age restriction law, which prohibits those under the age of 18 from gambling. Underage volunteers will conduct compliance checks by attempting to place bets, purchase tickets or otherwise gamble, with gaming commission officials on-hand to dish out immediate citations for violators.
Gaming commission officials are also stepping up efforts to ensure facilities can properly identify problem gamblers. The commission is mandating gaming facilities submit a report indicating how they handle individuals showing signs of being problem gamblers, with the responses slated to be reviewed by the council and OASAS.
“Problem gambling is a very real concern in New York state, and this partnership will provide the real-world tools and resources needed to adequately address the issue,” said OASAS Commissioner Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez.
Monitoring problem gambling across the state is difficult, and Maney acknowledged his agency hasn’t conducted a prevalence study since 2006. An analysis conducted by the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions in 2011 suggested problem gambling is more common among U.S. adults than alcohol dependence, afflicting anywhere between 3 percent and 5 percent of Americans.
Problem gambling was reclassified as a behavioral addiction in the fifth addition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual, which is scheduled to be released in May. Previously, it was categorized as an impulse control disorder.
Meanwhile, New York is bracing for the creation of three new casinos in the upstate areas. Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed them in January and the state Legislature is expected to consider final passage of an amendment to the state constitution that would allow up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos beyond Indian land.
Word of the new partnership was well-received by Rita Cox, the senior vice president of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs. She welcomed their work and said she looks forward to helping them with their charge.
“It’s important for the industry as a whole to rec there may be people who have issues like this,” she said.
But gambling opponents weren’t pacified by the announcement of the partnership. The Rev. Jay Ekman, who fought a lost cause to thwart video slot machines from landing at the Saratoga Raceway nine years ago, said the partnership is a disingenuous effort the state is taking to appear as though it’s doing something.
“It sounds to me like they’re trying to put a silk hat on a skunk,” he said. “They’re trying to dress up what is a basically a bad idea and make it look like they’re doing something to address the evils that are absolutely inherent in casino gambling.”
Ekman said the effort being put into the partnership wouldn’t even be necessary were the state taking a responsible approach toward gambling. In a sense, he said the state is throwing good money after bad.
“Anytime you have an enterprise where you have to spend some money — and maybe a lot of it — trying to redress the evils that it causes, it seems to me you have a bad enterprise,” he said.