Compulsive Gambling Grows

As gaming juggernaut rolls across US, groups to help addicted gamblers find business growing

WAIT a minute. What did that small, posted sign say at the entrance to the Foxwoods Casino where thousands of people rush by on their way to the slot machines and the gambling tables?

Almost in a whisper, the message is from the Connecticut Council on Compulsive Gambling: ``If you think you have a gambling problem, call 1-800-346-6238.''

Dial the number and listen: ``You have reached the Connecticut Council on Compulsive Gambling. If you are interested in information about problem gambling, or available treatment, please wait for the tone and leave a brief message including your name and telephone number.''

``We get a minimum of two calls a day,'' says Marvin Steinberg, director of the council, ``but I anticipate about 10 calls a day within the next six months because the signs have been up for only a month or so.''

Based on several studies, 6.3 percent of the adults in Connecticut have problems with gambling, the highest percent of any state. The Foxwoods Casino, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, opened three years ago and now has 139,000 square feet of gambling space and 3,145 slot machines, allegedly making it the largest casino in the US.

During the three years, the Pequots appeared to be in no rush to address the issue of problem gamblers. Even though they gave the Connecticut Council on Compulsive Gambling $91,000 last year, a brochure about compulsive gambling for employees and gamblers has been completed but not printed.

``I have trained the supervisors and managers at Foxwoods to identify problem gamblers,'' says Mr. Steinberg, who praises the Pequots, ``and I have formed a problem gambling committee there to address the problems that come up. The Pequots are an example for other gaming casinos.''

According to the National Council on Compulsive Gambling, phone numbers for help with gambling problems are ringing loudly these days in all states. Only two states, Hawaii and Utah, continue to ban gambling as the gaming juggernaut rolls across all other states.

``Compulsive gambling is on the increase,'' says Jean Falzon, executive director of the National Council on Compulsive Gambling, ``because gambling is on the increase.''

As well as bedazzling gamblers, Foxwoods has enticed the states of Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts. Why? Foxwoods, located in rural countryside, earns close to $1.8 million a day in gross revenues.

A call to Gambler's Anonymous (203-777-5585) in Connecticut brought a quick response from a man named Jack. ``Since Foxwoods opened three years ago, the number of calls we have received has increased substantially,'' he said. Gambler's Anonymous (GA) is a national 12-step recovery program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.

``When we get a call from someone, we try to get them to a GA meeting,''said Jack, ``or, if it's a spouse, we send them to a GAM-ANON meeting, a support group.''

Surprisingly, the kind of gambling problem that triggers the most calls to the National Council's hotline, is sports gambling. ``And gambling on sports is virtually illegal everywhere in this country except Nevada,'' says Ms. Falzon.

Despite the growing problem of compulsive gambling, recent studies indicate that the US attitude toward gambling is steady. A 1993 Gallup poll done for CNBC said that 54 percent of Americans favored legalized gambling to increase revenues for states. A modest 37 percent said society would be hurt because of the crime and compulsive gambling that comes with gaming. Gallup says the approval of gambling has remained constant about 50 percent since 1982.

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