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Experts: problem gamblers a sure thing

Created: 04/24/2014 11:40 PM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY - Along with the inevitability of a Capital Region casino, addiction experts are also expecting another sure thing: problem gambling.

Even though we don't know yet where a casino will be built in the Capital Region, those same experts are saying they do know with a high degree of certainty, there will be negative consequences that go along with the hoped for benefits.

For many people, dealing with the inevitable spike in problem gambling is a fundamental moral issue. There appears to be a serious effort currently underway to make sure the proper procedures and protocols are in place long before anyone rolls the dice on a casino floor.

Long before the proliferation of casinos across the country, people were always willing to take a chance with their money.

"They have bingo, lottery, the Final Four, and horse racing," Dr. Bob Wishnoff, a long time area addiction counselor, points out, "We've had gambling forever."

Wishnoff says once a casino is up and running in the Capital Region, he's expecting 1% to 2% of the casino guests will have a gambling problem.

"Problem gambling won't necessarily be increased," Wishnoff predicts, "but it'll be reshaped for the different form because there will be a casino some where in the Capital Region."

During a question and answer period on Thursday night at Bishop Maginn High School, longtime Albany resident Peter Sokaris said he "strongly disagrees" with the 1% or 2% numbers being tossed around by the Flaum development group, that wants to build a casino near exit 23 of the Thruway.

To back up his opposition, Sokaris brought with him a report he pulled off the Internet from a Baylor University economics professor.

"52% of casino gambling revenues are from problem or pathological gamblers," Sokaris read from the report, "Gamblers constitute only 7% of the casino gambling clients."

But not wanted to get into a debate on the percentages, the Flaum team wanted to make sure people knew they were out in front of the problem. That's why they hired Wishnoff, along with Angela Lewin, another longtime area addiction counselor, to come up with a plan, and have it in place before the first cards are dealt in a local casino.

"Our job is to make sure that these issues are addressed long before anything starts so there are opportunities for people to get help when they need it," Lewin says. "What we need to do is to look at this as a social problem and look at all the other problems within these communities."

"I'm sure some people will end up coming to a casino for the first time may result in having a problem," Wishnoff says, "That's why we're going to do what ever we can to alert people to the issues related to gambling."

Both public awareness campaigns and addictive gambling programs will be funded by the casino revenues.

Some of that money, according to Wishnoff, will train employees to recognize problem gamblers, much the same way bartenders are trained to recognize problem drinkers.

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