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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

5 million to help serve people currently in treatment and those waiting for treatment.

Forms of gambling
While 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.”

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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