Gambling in Oklahoma has contributed more than $184 million to state government revenues, but it has come at a cost to tens of thousands of Oklahomans who have become problem gamblers, experts say. Up to 200,000 Oklahomans — from a 70-something lady dressed in her Sunday best to the college student hunched over his computer — are considered problem or pathological gamblers, said Wiley Harwell, director of the Oklahoma Association for Problem and Compulsive Gambling. Oklahomans have lost their homes, spouses and retirement funds to gambling, said Jo Ann Pearce, executive director of A Chance to Change, a state gambling treatment contractor that has seen a 50 percent increase this year in demand for services. "It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenditures” by gamblers, Harwell said. And while the state has seen a windfall in terms of revenues and jobs, very little of that money has been used to help problem gamblers.
A small fractionAmerican Indian gaming topped the contributions to state revenues with almost $113 million. The lottery came in a distant second at nearly $69 million while horse racing contributed $2.7 million. The gambling industry also provides jobs and overall added $2.5 billion to the state economy last year, Harwell said. But the state spends a small fraction, $750,000, of state gaming revenue each year to treat problem and pathological gambling. That money comes from unclaimed lottery winnings, $500,000, and tribal gaming centers and casinos, $250,000. "We’re not against gambling,” Harwell said. "We’re just here to help problem gamblers.” He visited Washington last week to advocate for a bill that would provide $71 million over five years for gambling treatment in the U.S. He said Oklahoma’s gambling treatment programs could use about $1.5 million to help serve people currently in treatment and those waiting for treatment.
Forms of gamblingWhile the lights, food and action are all big draws at the casinos, experts say instant gratification really sucks in gamblers. "The No. 1 trigger is an early win in a slot machine experience,” Harwell said. Part of the typical gambling impairment is that gamblers significantly overestimate winnings compared to what they spend, he said. The average ratio is six dollars lost to one dollar won, he said. If the gambler is $1,000 or $1,200 ahead, many will go home, he said. But problem gamblers will continue until they’ve lost. The slot machines are the primary form of play among those Oklahomans who seek his group’s help, Harwell said. But gambling can be anything involving chance. Internet gambling by young people is now leading to more pleas for help from parents and friends, said Armisha Harrison, the coordinator of problem and compulsive gambling for the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department. Other gambling forms may be the daily stock trader or the guys gathering for regular poker games or grandma’s club queuing up for bingo on Friday nights, she said.
‘Recovery is possible’The state reaches out to problem or pathological gamblers in various ways, including a help line, marketing, a Web site and contracts with nine providers who offer services such as specialized gambling addiction treatment. Help line calls have increased significantly since July and have climbed from about 40 per month to about 100 per month, according to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Financial, family and health issues prompt most of them to call, data show. Harrison said the additional calls are both good news and bad news. "Gambling is an addiction,” Harrison said. "But recovery is possible.”
Gambling revenue→Total state gambling revenue, 2009: $184,353,000 →Indian gaming: $112,640,000 →Lottery: $68,975,000 →Horse racing: (includes funding for promoting Oklahoma racing): $2,738,000
Gambling treatment→Total funding for yearly problem gambling treatment: $750,000 →Funding from unclaimed lottery winnings: $500,000 →Funding from tribal gaming: $250,000 SOURCES: Oklahoma Office of State Finance, State Auditor and Inspector’s office, Oklahoma Lottery Commission, A Chance to Change, National Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling.
Problem gambling traits→Increased preoccupation with and loss of control over gambling. →Restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop gambling. →Continued gambling despite serious negative consequences.
For helpFor more information, call the Problem and Compulsive Gambling Hotline 24 hours a day at 800/522-4700. Visit the web site at www.ok.gov/odmhsas/Consumer_Services/Substance_Abuse/Gambling_Addiction_Services/index.html SOURCES: Oklahoma Office of State Finance, state Auditor and Inspector’s office, Oklahoma Lottery Commission, A Chance to Change, National Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling.