With just more than two months to go before the opening of Hollywood Casino Toledo, county and state officials are preparing for an unwelcome potential side effect: a rise in gambling addiction.
On Monday, Lucas County officials and state regulators announced that Toledo will be the first city to host a specialized training session on how to detect, prevent and respond to compulsive gambling problems. Social service providers, religious leaders, law enforcement personnel and other professionals working in the community are invited to attend the two-day conference to be held March 26 and 27 at the University of Toledo’s Scott Park Campus.
“We want to pack the house,” county commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said. “We’re delighted to have a new casino... but at the same time we recognize there’s a small population of vulnerable citizens who may fall to gambling addiction.”
An estimated 1 percent of the population nationwide already suffers from severe gambling addiction, said Peter Silverman, a Toledoan who serves on the Ohio Gaming Commission. That percentage could climb in Lucas County as a result of the casino’s opening, Mr. Silverman said.
At the same time, social service providers are less well equipped to deal with the problems of gambling as they are other kinds of addictions, he explained. It’s also harder to spot compulsive gamblers over people who abuse drugs or alcohol, making training all the more necessary, he said.
“There will be an increase in crime, bankruptcy, divorce, abuse (and) foreclosures from gambling problems,” he said. “We’re going to try and take a comprehensive approach to it, but the first step is making sure people are trained.”
The upcoming training session, which costs $30, is organized by the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, and will be followed by similar seminars in Cleveland and Columbus. The sessions are funded using part of the state’s annual $350,000 allocation for combatting gambling addiction, said Laura Clemons, Director of Government Affairs and Problem Gaming Program Coordinator for the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Once the casinos are up and running, the money available for such efforts is expected to increase dramatically.
As part of the constitutional amendment that allows casinos passed by voters in 2009, 2 percent of the tax collected from casino operators will go into a state fund to pay for intervention and educaion on problem gambling. Ms. Clemons said that should amount to between $7 million and $10 million. The Ohio Senate is also considering a bill that would earmark one percent of the profits from slot machines at Ohio’s seven horse-racing tracks to programs combatting gambling addiction.
“We want to make sure we are ready if and when (gambling problems) do occur,” Ms. Clemons said. “We’re taking a very measured approach to this.”
The state is also sponsoring a survey aimed at calculating the current prevalence of gambling addiction across Ohio and locally. Follow-up surveys will be conducted every two to three years in an effort to establish whether the problem is increasing, Ms. Clemons said. A second study will identify resources currently available to tackle problem gambling and pinpoint areas where further help is needed, she added.
Problem gambling can arise not just from casinos, but also from use of online poker sites, sports betting or lottery tickets, Mr. Silverman added.
“It’s really a constantly changing environment,” he said. “We’re becoming awash in gambling.”
The $300 million Hollywood Casino Toledo is expected to open Memorial Day week on the East Toledo riverfront near Rossford.
For more information on the training seminar or to register go to www.recres.org.