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Casino Commissions Focus on Problem Gambling

When you were growing up, did you never have an “early, unexpected win” like a winning lottery ticket in your Christmas stocking? Well, if you never did, you can consider yourself lucky.

One thing people who become problem gamblers usually have in common is an “early, unexpected win,” Keith Whyte, director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, told the Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission on Tuesday.

Whyte was one of three experts giving testimony at a public hearing in advance of the commission approving a resolution promoting National Problem Gambling Awareness Month in the Virgin Islands.

The other speakers were Stephanie Barnes of ABC Behavioral Consulting Services and Joseph Bullock, director of Substance Abuse Services in Virginia and coordinator of a training program at Divi Carina Bay Casino.

Before the presentation, Violet Anne Golden, chairwoman of the commission, said, “We are committed to having a public conversation on the serious topic of problem gambling in the territory.”

Whyte applauded territorial efforts. He said, “I am taking home a lot more than I came down here with.”

He said the territory is ahead of the states in some areas. He cited the training program on problem gambling that has been given to Divi employees during the last year and is proposed for employees of the new gambling enterprise to open at Hotel Caravelle Christiansted. He also cited the proclamation as a “big step” in bringing about public awareness of the problem.

The public hearing was part of a series of public events the commission will host this year to engage the community in a public discussion about the problems of obsessive gambling. Commercials on the subject have been airing on several local radio stations. Golden will be appearing on the local PBS show Face to Face on Wednesday night.

Golden praised Barnes for being the first Virgin Islander to become a certified counselor in the field. She started the hearing by giving an overview of the problem and “the devastating effect it can have on individuals and families.”

She said problem gamblers can become so desperate that they steal from family members, lose homes, sell sexual favors, neglect their children and become involved in criminal activity.

Although Barnes decried a lack of data for determining the number of problem gamblers in the U.S. Virgin Islands, she could say she was receiving about 10 calls a week from people who thought they or someone close to them had a gambling problem.

She said the problem is real and urged the commission to become proactive in making counseling services available to those in need. She said the availability and affordability of these programs is very important.

The proclamation signed by the commission later asked the Legislature to set aside 1 percent of the Casino Reserve Fund for such counseling.

Bullock talked about the treatment for those with gambling problems. He said behavioral treatment programs are the most popular. He also mentioned Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on Alcoholic Anonymous 12-step plan. The first step in the plan is to admit that one has a problem. He also mentioned that in some cases there could be benefits found in certain medication.

Barnes urged the commission and community members to get together and organize a support group like Gambler’s Anonymous.

Golden said that this is the first time that March has been declared National Problem Gambling Awareness Month

The commission should focus on the problem “not just this week, this month, but all year long,” said commission member Roderick Moorehead.

Commissioner Henry Richardson also attended the meeting.

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