In the ongoing dispute over whether Sands New York should be permitted to build a massive casino on the Hub site whose centerpiece is the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, those who voice opposition often cite the risk of an increase in problem gambling.
The risk is real, but resources to treat problem gamblers have grown exponentially, on Long Island and across New York state. These resources come from the Responsible Play Partnership, a coalition of three state agencies: the New York Council on Problem Gambling, the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports, and the state Gaming Commission.
What is problem gambling, or gambling disorder?
Definitions of problem gambling are generally similar to the one posted by the Mayo Clinic: “Compulsive gambling, also called gambling disorder, is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life.”
What does problem gambling look like?
Pamela Brenner-Davis, team leader for the Long Island Problem Gambling Resource Center, called it a “hidden addiction,” because it does not have a physical impact like substance abuse does.
“For a lot of people, particularly spouses,” Brenner-Davis said, “finding out their partner has a gambling addiction often comes with a sense of betrayal, because those with a gambling addiction keep it secret for a very long time.”
Brenner-Davis advised against stereotyping the typical problem gambler, and said it is wiser to become educated about warning signals.
“Some common signs are lying about the time and money spent on gambling,” she said. “Also, being preoccupied with the activity, becoming anxious or irritated or depressed when you can’t gamble, consistently borrowing money from other people to pay off gambling debts, and chasing losses, like when you’ve lost $100 and you put another $50 down to get back what you lost.”
Who is most likely to become addicted?
The state Office of Addiction Services and Supports conducted a Problem Gambling Prevalence Survey in 2020. It found that “4.4 percent of adults in NY are at risk for developing a gambling problem and an additional 0.7 percent meet the criteria for problem gambling or a gambling disorder.”
College-age adults are a special concern, because the Sands casino would be close to both Hofstra University and Nassau Community College.
A recent article titled “The Psychology of Gambling” in The Yale Ledger, Yale University’s weekly student magazine, stated that “a study of gamblers of ages 18 to 29 shows this age group has the highest risk of developing problem gambling or pathological gambling habits,” because the human brain — and its capacity to judge risk — does not fully develop until about age 25.
Former Gov. David Paterson, senior vice president of the Sands Corporation, disagreed during an interview earlier this year with Nicole Burke on her “Voice of Uniondale” radio show.
“There is a very low incidence of younger people having gambling addictions,” Paterson said, adding that the greater risk was for people in their late 20s and early 30s who might use gambling to mask life problems.
Nonetheless, Brenner-Davis said, the L.I. Problem Gambling Resource Center is most concerned about young people — especially those of color — and veterans.
“Veterans and military personnel have twice the risk of their civilian counterparts,” Brenner-Davis said, “because they are a risk-taking population by design.”
How can the risk be reduced?
Reducing the risk of gambling disorder starts with community education, Brenner-Davis said.
“People gamble for excitement and entertainment,” she said. “For most, it won’t be a problem, but the younger you are exposed to gambling, the more normalized gambling becomes, and that is a predictor of future trouble.”
Even giving children lottery tickets should be avoided.
“We do a ‘Gift Responsibly’ campaign at this time of year,” Brenner-Davis said. “In my speaking engagements, I remind people that if they don’t give cigarettes or alcohol to underage kids, they shouldn’t buy lottery tickets for them, either.”
For those who identify themselves or a loved one as having a gambling problem, Brenner-Davis said, “We operate a hotline that provides resources and clinical assistance to individuals that are negatively impacted by gambling, both to the addicted and to family members, spouses, children, friends.”
Because gambling disorder is now classified in the same category as substance abuse disorder, she said, insurance can help pay for treatment.
As noted in a 2017 article in Phys.Org titled “New York pumps up gambling treatment as it expands gambling,” the state assesses a $500 annual licensing fee for each slot machine and table game, specifically “to pump money into treatment and awareness programs.”
State-funded treatment now includes “voluntary self-exclusion,” a process people can undertake online or by contacting a resource center. “By voluntarily self-excluding oneself,” a Nov. 22 news release from the Gaming Commission stated, “they are barred from entering any gaming establishment or partaking in any gambling activity in New York State, including sports wagering.”
The Council on Problem Gambling’s Voluntary Self-Exclusion Support Program can be found at VSESupport@nycpg.org or (518) 903-0217.
Brenner-Davis and the team at the Long Island Problem Gambling Resource Center can be reached at email@example.com or (516) 242-6603.