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Problem gambling awareness never been more important for USA

Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM) is underway in the USA, with the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), in collaboration with its affiliates, members and corporate partners across the country, now hosting its 14th such initiative.

Titled “Have the Conversation,” this year places a focus on the importance of an open dialogue and candid discussion around the issue of problem gambling.

Keith Whyte, the NCPG Executive Director, spoke about the campaign and services available for those who reach out: “The goal of Problem Gambling Awareness Month is to increase public awareness of problem gambling and to encourage healthcare providers to screen clients for gambling problems.  It’s a nationwide, grassroots campaign.

“NCPG is a central point of contact for people with concerns about problem gambling.  So if you or someone you know may have a problem, we provide referrals to help in your area.  

“You can contact the National Problem Gambling Helpline via phone and text (1-800-522-4700) or chat (www.ncpgambling.org/chat) or visit our website for information and assistance.”

During its fourteen year history PGAM has undergone a significant level of growth, and Whyte addressed this, as well the importance of promoting the issues during the month of March Madness, an NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) 68 team single-elimination tournament: “We started with an awareness week back in 2004 and are gratified it has grown by popular demand into an entire month.  We picked March because we wanted to emphasise that it’s not just legal gambling we’re concerned about but illegal gambling such as sports betting as well.

“We also wanted to create some awareness around the term “March Madness” which can describe the excitement and euphoria of the tournament, but also describes the devastation gambling addiction can cause for individuals and their families, or the agony of a recovering gambler who is desperately fighting intense, almost overwhelming urges to reopen their sports betting account or pick up the phone to call their bookie.”  

Releasing figures around the issue, the NCPG reveals approximately 2 million American adults, which represents around one percent of the population, meet the criteria for serious problem gamblers.

While a further 4-6 million, 2-3 percent, would be considered moderate gamblers, with a social cost to gambling estimated to be in the region of $6.7bn.

With the landscape of gambling potentially seeing a significant shift later this year, due to the Christie v NCAA case which centres around New Jersey’s ongoing battle to offer sports betting, Whyte sees an increasingly critical role for the NCPG: “Our position of neutrality on legalised gambling makes NCPG a crucial resource for legislators, operators, regulators and gamblers grappling with the legalisation of sports gambling.  We work with all these groups and provide objective, unbiased information. The only way to maximise the benefits from legalised sports betting is to minimise the social costs of gambling addiction.”

This week saw the release of the NCPG’s responsible gaming principles for sports gambling legislation, and with a likelihood for gambling participation and problems to rise, several steps were laid out for legislators and regulators:

  • Ensure that any expansion of sports gambling includes dedicated funds to prevent and treat gambling addiction.
  • Require sports betting operators to implement responsible gaming programs, which include comprehensive employee training, self-exclusion, ability to set limits on time and money spent betting, specific requirements for the inclusion of help/prevention messages in external marketing.
  • Assign a regulatory agency to enforce the regulations and requirements that are enacted.
  • Conduct surveys of the prevalence of gambling addiction prior to expansion and at regular periods thereafter in order to monitor impacts of legalised sports betting and have data that will support evidence-based mitigation efforts.
  • Establish a consistent minimum age for sports gambling and related fantasy games.

“We urge that all stakeholders in this debate, especially the leagues, commit to putting these guidelines into practice. It is especially important for the leagues as through their proposed integrity fee they will directly profit from each wager. And a disproportionate share of gambling wagers and revenues comes from people with gambling problems.  

“And of course, athletes themselves are at much higher risk for gambling problems. Existing league efforts to protect the integrity of the game must be coupled with efforts to prevent gambling problems among players, personnel and the public,” added Whyte.

Concluding, Whyte pointed to a lack of sympathy and reduction of stigma attached to issues of problem gambling as key to raising awareness amongst the American public: “Our surveys find Americans are very aware of problem gambling but unsympathetic to actual people with gambling problems.  There is a lot of blame and shame around addiction in general and gambling addiction in particular.

“Through our efforts to “Have the Conversation” in March we aim to reduce stigma and encourage those who suffer in silence from this hidden addiction to reach out for help.  We see a 30% spike in calls in March each year which is a great sign that our message resonates. We appreciate your support in spreading this positive message of hope and help.”

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