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Experts warn of rise in problem gambling in Oklahoma

BY SONYA COLBERG Modified: March 21, 2010 at 12:45 am •  Published: March 21, 2010

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 fraction
American 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.

Problem & Compulsive Gambling Addiction

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 help
For more information, call the Problem and Compulsive Gambling Hotline 24 hours a day at 800/522-4700. Visit the web site at

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.

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