Treating the Problem

Responsible gaming has a dark side, those that are afflicted with the disease of gaming addiction. But it can be treated successfully, writes Stephanie Goodman (l.), executive director of the Dr. Robert Hunter International Problem Gambling Center.

Treating the Problem

As I walked into the casino to meet with my client, I saw the same older man at the same machine, looking somewhat disgruntled, a little disheveled and playing with vigor. Odd, I thought, he was there last week, and the week before, and the week before….

Every Wednesday morning at 9am, this man would be at his machine. Maybe he has a problem, I thought. Why doesn’t he just not come to the casino? Maybe he’s bored. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Well, those were the days I was in gaming advertising and working for various clients in the industry. Those were the days that I was so ignorant, I would say, “just don’t go to the casino.” I have come a long way from the ad exec who had no idea that gambling is categorized as a DSM-5 addiction. The same kind of addiction as alcohol addiction and drug addiction.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a gaming girl to the core. My dad was a baccarat dealer at Caesars Palace for 30 years and I basically grew up on the Caesars Palace tennis courts. Add to that my years of working in the industry as an advertising executive for multiple casinos. I love Las Vegas. I love that we are the gold standard in gaming and I still believe we are the gaming capital of the world.

But what about that older man sitting at that same machine every morning because of whatever reason. Was he recently widowed and escaping the pain of that loss? Was he retired and unsure what to do with his time? Was he a person who has been sitting at that proverbial machine for decades because of the childhood trauma he experienced? I’ll never know but now, I would know how to help him.

I am grateful for the numerous responsible gaming programs that exist at nearly every property here in Las Vegas and across the country. And I appreciate the intent to keep individuals from developing a problem, but let’s go back to the gambling addict. This is a person who is unable to set limits. Someone who is incapable of paying any regard to the warnings in-house or on an app. We are talking about an addict that will leave their infant in the car to gamble, someone that will hide their money but when in the throes of an urge, they will toss all reason aside and figure out a way to gamble. We are talking about a person that goes into a fog, sits at a machine for hours on end and has no idea how much money they have lost or how long they have been sitting at that machine. It is debilitating and in a word, sad. And, we have to do more.

Problem gamblers come into our center, often with diminished self-esteem. But here is the great part, in six short weeks, they walk out feeling like they can manage their addiction through recovery, the multiple programs we provide and constant support coupled with the knowledge that our center will never turn them away. Our clients can live a positive, happy life.

Most individuals can gamble responsibly. However, for a subset of the population, gambling can be devastating. We think 6 percent of our population has a problem. We are not even scratching the surface of how many people we should be helping. But this is why awareness is key. If our clients want to get help, if they want to get better and if they are committed to doing the work, they can live a life free of this addiction.

Here is a number that is staggering: If our clients go through our 6-week Intensive Outpatient Program, followed by weekly one-on-one sessions with their counselor, followed by one of our bi-monthly Relapse Prevention programs —their success rate is 92 percent. This is the person that is not quitting on themself, they are committed to their recovery and they know that these regular “touches” with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or group therapy will keep them thoughtful and engaged and most importantly, not gambling. As a center, when we consider all of our clients, 44 percent of our clients are bet-free after one year compared to the national average of 8 to 10 percent.

And so this is why I am writing this piece. I appreciate the work and time that goes into developing an effective responsible gaming program, but we must also understand that problem gambling should be a completely separate issue the industry acknowledges and ultimately addresses.

Yes, I have seen predatory actions by smaller companies, but for the most part, I know the industry people I work with don’t want to take an elderly person’s mortgage payment that month. I believe we are better and surely don’t want families to be crushed by this unseen addiction. I believe it is incumbent upon the industry to take some responsibility and support problem gambling awareness and treatment. Many of our supporters understand my plea and support what we do. I would ask for the industry as a whole to do so as well.

So now, I will leave you with this: when I worked for the Mayor of Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority tried to run a Las Vegas television advertisement during the Super Bowl. The NFL did not allow us to run the spot because Las Vegas was associated with gaming. Fast-forward 20 years and the Las Vegas Raiders are here, we are hosting the Super Bowl in 2024, the Golden Knights just won the Stanley Cup and gambling is as far away from us as our phone.

The gaming world is a very different place. The counselors at our problem gambling center are working little miracles each day and the people of our community are the benefactors. Please join me in supporting greater awareness of problem gambling.

Articles by Author: Stephanie Goodman

Stephanie Goodman is the executive director of the Dr. Robert Hunter International Problem Gambling Center and has worked with her team to increase enrollment and to nearly double the funding. She previously was chief of staff to Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and was recently elected to the Nevada Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s higher education system.