As March nears an end, the height of NCAA basketball is set to begin. According to the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling, Inc., the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is the largest gambling event of the year in Kentucky. Not so ironically, March is also National Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM).
House Bill 175 was recently brought before the House and, if it had been signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin, sports betting in Kentucky would become legal allowing even more sports betting on basketball to occur. The bill also hoped to create and fund the first public program in Kentucky to educate the public on problem gambling and establish a treatment program. As there is currently no publicly funded program for awareness and treatment of addicted gambling in Kentucky, in spite of the state receiving more than $250 million annually in gambling revenues.
The Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling (KYCPG) takes no position for or against gambling, yet KYCPG does stress the need for awareness of problem gambling warning signs and how to gamble responsibly.
When individuals or family members notice warning signs such as gambling interfering with everyday responsibilities, using gambling to deal with emotions or stress or forgoing paying necessary bills and expenses due to excess money spent on gambling, they are encouraged to call or text 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537). This number allows anyone across the state of Kentucky with a gambling concern to speak with a trained counselor who is available at all times to respond to your call or text.
What most people do not realize is that those calls are answered at RiverValley Behavioral Health located in Owensboro.
RiverValley Senior Director of Substance Abuse and Prevention RonSonlyn Clark, Psy.D., ICGC-II, was the first woman in Kentucky to get certified in gambling addiction counseling in 2002 and said there is more of a concern with gambling in Owensboro and Daviess County than most people realize.
“When you talk about Owensboro and gambling here,” Clark said, “you have to stop and think — we’re 45 minutes from a casino and 30 minutes from a racetrack. There is a bingo hall here in town, we have charitable gaming and Monte Carlo night, poker night — and all of that is legal — so there is a lot of gambling here. Then you have illegal gambling as well.”
Clark said the primary population that gambling affects includes young people ages 18-24, especially males,
and those over the age of 60. Again, the numbers associated with Owensboro and Daviess County may be surprising.
“Pathological gambling affects about one to two percent of the population — in Daviess County, that’s about 1,200 people that would have problems with gambling,” Clark said, adding that there is another 3 to 4 percent who are considered at risk for gambling addiction.
Clark said the 1800 number that is answered through the crisis line at River Valley has been in place for years.
“We had a really well-functioning crisis line,” Clark said, “and our former CEO was on the Kentucky Council board. We have trained counselors and phone screeners that are able to track people by their area code, talk with them about their problems and hook them up with a trained counselor — which there are not very many of.”
Clark, who also serves as director of education for the Kentucky Council, plans conferences and awareness activities throughout the year, and said this year the Council is doing a lot of media promotion.”
“In the past, we have done public trainings throughout the state,” Clark said. “This year, we are looking to do a day of for people to stop and talk to us about compulsive gambling.”
Owensboro is also fortunate enough to have a weekly Gamblers Anonymous meeting, Clark said, adding that it is the only one for over about 100 miles. The meetings are held on Sunday nights at 5 p.m. at Blessed Sacrament Church and have been in circulation for the past eight to nine years.
Being a part of a recovery group is important Clark said, as gambling addiction is quite similar to drug and alcohol addiction.
“In some ways, it’s a little bit different because gambling can be hidden for a whole lot longer,” Clark said. “You can tell by looking at someone’s eyes or their slurred speech if they are using drugs or alcohol. There’s no blood test to see if someone is playing poker. So gambling can stay hidden a whole lot longer — it depends who manages the bills and finances.”
Clark said there have been instances where the wife didn’t know until there was a knock on the door fo their car or their home, “and that detriment to the family is one of the things that attribute to the high suicide rate” amongst gambling addicts.
If you cannot gamble responsibly or you think you need assistance for a gambling problem, please call or text 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537). A trained counselor is available at all times to respond to your call or text. You also can visit www.kycpg.org to speak with a counselor online.