AACA Forum Tells of Gambling’s Perils, Resources

AACA Forum Tells of Gambling’s Perils, Resources
Wild Casino

Jodie Nealley has had a tumultuous history with gambling.

Her addiction started in 2005 following a work excursion to a casino, Nealley explained late last month at a panel discussion at the Asian American Civic Association on problem gambling. After winning money at a slot machine, Nealley was at a “tipping point.” Gambling was an escape from family and work stress. She was gambling online and in person. Feeling devoid of responsibilities and pressures, she explained that this dopamine effect was “not about winning or losing, but about gambling.”

Throughout an 18-month period, Nealley said, this compulsion seized control of her better judgment, resulting in her 2009 confinement for larceny and embezzlement. Before going away, she discovered Gamblers Anonymous and realized this habit was an addiction. She emphasized at the AACA talk that gambling is not just entertainment and is never risk-free. Referencing the forum theme Destroying the “Family and the Human Spirit,” she said that addiction destroyed her spirit, yet recovery restored her spirit.

Nealley is now a director of Recovery Services for the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health. The panel also included three others, who offered their experiences and expertise with gambling.

GameSense Manager at the Plainridge Park Casino, Linh Ho, elaborated on avenues to restricting one’s gambling practices. Developed by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, GameSense exists as a multifaceted strategy to help educate individuals on being conscientious in all gambling domains. Situated within every Massachusetts casino, GameSense centers offer patrons statistics about different games, information about gambling healthiness, and support for any inquiries or concerns. Alluding to how the immigrant community may feel ashamed when discussing their problems, Ho mentioned the diversity of GameSense advisors being able to speak multiple languages and be sources of assistance. He then delved into one significant initiative, the voluntary self-exclusion program. For this resource, individuals can voluntarily bar themselves for a certain period from gambling activities via the GameSense website or their numerous centers across the state. Over a thousand participants have signed up for this program thus far. Stating how he has seen people sit at casino machines and tables for hours and even days, Ho stressed building controlling habits like setting a budget for the day.

“If people violate their terms by going into the casino to gamble, any jackpot they win would be confiscated by the casino,” said Ho of the GameSense strategy. “When the casino receives identification of a person to process the winnings, the computer will flag them. Additionally, any credit inside the machines they played at would also be confiscated, regardless if they hadn’t played yet. Those terms and conditions are on the application for voluntary self-exclusion, which we always explain. When people enroll in this program, they are well informed and aware of the consequences.”

Expounding more on the organizational aspect of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Director of Research and Responsible Gaming Mark Vander Linden explained its ongoing projects. In essence, the commission oversees all kinds of gambling including casinos, horse racing, and sports wagering. While maintaining regulations to ensure proper revenue attainment, the entity mainly concentrates on consumer protection and promotes responsible gaming. In his role, Vander Linden outlined his efforts of research regarding the social and economic effects of gambling within the state. The importance of such a study establishes the kind of associated behavior surrounding gambling, as well as understanding those most at risk.

“It’s easy to see things as black and white. ‘Casinos are good, casinos are bad.’ When I started in this field, I really did feel casinos were bad,” Vander told Sampan. “But I would rather look at what the evidence is, who is receiving jobs from this, and what types of tax revenues are being created. You want to understand the full picture, which means needing to understand the economics of it and how it affects people. The question is ‘Who is most profoundly affected in this situation?’”

Ben Hires, CEO of the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, spoke about the causes spurring gambling within the Asian immigrant community. In operation for over 50 years, BCNC serves the Greater Boston Asian immigrant community. Hires contended that gambling is as addictive as drugs, alcohol, and other destructive habits. Touching upon the notion of parental gambling, he described that adult fighting, both verbal and physical, coupled with hunger from insufficient funds, prompt instances of child behavioral issues. In research conducted with Vander Linden, the BCNC sought to identify the root causes of addiction affecting the Asian immigrant community. This coalition discerned that one’s immigrant status often led to isolation because of “unconscious racism” and difficulties in employment due to language barriers.

When asked about the BCNC’s methods for helping struggling individuals, Hires said, “The health of the family, whether financial or physical, goes back to those upstream determinants of health. Whether you are an immigrant or born in America, if you have a good job or relationships, you have other areas to make your life meaningful and enjoyable. Therefore, the casino is not something that (is attractive) to you. We like to think, ‘What are people’s occupational and educational opportunities? How can they get on a path to fulfill their dreams?’ The casino is not a place to make those dreams come true.”

Diving further into GameSense, Ho touched on the rising sports betting industry.

“We do have a sports wagering exclusion program. It works the same way as casino exclusion as when people sign up for this program, they no longer have access to sports betting apps such as DraftKings and FanDuel. They cannot utilize sportsbooks in Massachusetts casinos, as well. Since sports betting started growing, we have seen that a lot of people take advantage of these programs where they can exclude themselves from either one or both forms of gambling.”

Vander Linden explained that the gaming commission is “rewriting our strategic plan and overall framework to develop policiesin programs to mitigate gambling-related problems. One of the key drivers in this area is that sports wagering is now available in the state, which leads to some interesting challenges, but also opportunities. Namely, how do we use technology to promote safer ways to gamble or for early intervention for people exhibiting bad gambling behavior. An example we are discussing at the commission right now is using technology to identify patterns of early risk in players and provide key targeted info so they don’t continue down that path where there might be greater harm.”

“We have done an extensive literature review looking at what evidence supports that. We look at how similar types of programs have been implemented in other jurisdictions, largely outside of the United States because the U.S. tends to lag behind in this specific area. We’re operating to release a call for proposals to conduct research on the efficacy and implementation of this technology. We recognize there are questions to be answered so we continue to build upon that research.”

At BCNC, Hires said it found in its research that in addition to immigrants feeling isolated and having lower opportunities and increased stress, they also don’t have a lot of options for recreation.

“In partnership with the Department of Public Health and Massachusetts Gaming Commission, we put in place alternative recreational activities through our Pao Arts Center. Every week at the Pao Arts Center, BCNC does a karaoke and ping pong night. In places like Malden and Quincy, we partner with organizations to do tea, dance, and other cultural activities. The idea is that in particularly lower-income immigrant communities, there are not as many resources available. There might not be as many places where they feel welcome, have people speak their language, or understand their cultural backgrounds. In some small way, making those connections and having a welcoming environment where they can have fun is important. In essence, we are providing a counter experience and opportunity rather than being attracted to casinos. We are also offering a gambling counseling group that meets once a month to bring people together in a safe space.”

Commenting on what advice she would give to gamblers in addiction, Nealley said, “The easiest way to get your money back from your losses is to stop gambling. Don’t chase your losses. The HRIA (Health Resources in Action) has a helpline and can hook people up with counseling. Gambling blew up my life for a long time, and it took a long time to get it back. It pretty much took me down to ground zero, and that is why recovery is so important.”

Later this June, Nealley will have been 16 years in recovery.