Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Joint effort aims at awareness of gambling addicts

Toledo and Lucas County officials shifted Monday from exalting casino tax revenues for local governments to addressing the darker side of gambling with a call to residents to educate themselves on how to spot addictions and learn where to seek help.

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, two Lucas County commissioners, and city council members issued the proclamation alongside Hollywood Casino Toledo executives at One Government Center downtown as they kicked off Responsible Gaming Education Week, a campaign aimed at informing people about problem gambling and how to gamble responsibly.

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"The whole idea of a casino, the whole idea of this entertainment venue is just that, it's for entertainment," Mayor Bell said. "We want to say to our residents here: You need to be responsible in the way you pursue your entertainment dollars."

Officials expect to see an increase in gambling addiction tied to the introduction of casinos to the state. County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said approximately 5 to 6 percent of individuals who visit casinos are likely to become problem gamblers. A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services said that number could be as high as 7 percent.

Calls to the Ohio's Problem Gambling Help Line have increased dramatically since March, a couple of months before the openings of the Hollywood Casino Toledo and Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, officials said. However, that's likely the result of heavy efforts to publicize the help line number through the casinos' advertising campaigns, said Scott Anderson, problem gambling coordinator at addiction services.

Calls to the help line doubled to about 400 in March, May, and June, he said.

"I think marketing has a big impact on those calls," Mr. Anderson said. "It's written into the rules that the casinos have to publicize the numbers in all of their advertising."

Any true rise in gambling addiction is not likely to be felt for a couple of years, officials said. That's because it takes a while for new gambling problems to emerge and cause enough havoc in people's lives to prompt them to seek help, Mr. Anderson explained.

"In other states that we've spoken to, the onset of pathological gambling with slot machines, that takes 18 months to two years before people exhaust all their resources, spiritually, financially, emotionally," he said.

Table-game addiction can take up to five years to become apparent, because the games are slower than slot machines, Mr. Anderson added.

Under the rules governing Ohio's casinos, 2 percent of the tax collected will go to a state problem gambling and addictions fund managed by addiction services. So far, the agency has received just under $400,000 for the fund, spokesman Stacey Frohnapfel-Hasson said. That amount is expected to grow to about $5 million by the end of the year, although it's still unclear exactly how much money the agency will receive, she said.

The funds will be distributed to the agency's affiliates in each county, including the Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. The state agency will wait until it has received more funds, and for the results of a statewide survey on the prevalence of gambling addiction and risk factors, to determine how the money will be distributed, Ms. Frohnapfel-Hasson said.

Numerous symptoms of problem gambling that people can spot for themselves or others, according to addiction services' Ohio For Responsible Gambling Web site, include:

Bragging about winning, exaggerating wins, and/or minimizing losses.

Spending a lot of time gambling, thinking about or planning to gamble.

Becoming restless or irritable when not gambling.

Borrowing for gambling.

Concealing or lying about time or money spent gambling, including hiding bills and unpaid debts.

Anyone who suspects problem gambling in himself or herself or a friend or relative can call the state's Problem Gambling Help Line at 800-589-9966.

Throughout the week, casino staff plan to promote responsible gambling by distributing educational materials at events in the area, including at a Toledo Mud Hens baseball game, the Toledo Zoo's "Rock 'N' Roar" event, and at the Wood County Fair.

Today, Toledo City Council is set to issue a Responsible Gaming Education Week resolution.

Ms. Wozniak said the county in partnership with community leaders also plans next month to roll out a "Toledo pledge," a vow to teach people about problem gambling and provide them with resources to address it.

"We've got to do our own grass-roots effort," Ms. Wozniak said. "We feel like it's our job to take care of our own citizens. We're not counting on anyone else to do that."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.

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