By Steve Reed
Johnstonian News Group
July 14, 2016
Editor’s Note: It’s encouraging to see a local media group, in this case the Johnstonian News Group from Johnston County, doing research and providing information to their readers on issues related to problem gambling in North Carolina. The Christian Action League appreciates that they are allowing us to share what they have found with you. The article below is Part One in a series of two. Posting these articles, however, does not necessarily mean the Christian Action League agrees with all of its content.
Gambling can be as addictive as alcohol. Don’t believe it? The state spends more than $1 million per year for gambling addicts.
On the North Carolina Education Lottery commercials, there’s a phone number in small print at the bottom of each ad.
It’s the toll-free number for the North Carolina Problem Gambling Program, 1-877-718-5543.
The lottery provides over $1 million per year for this program.
Between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), the helpline received 4,758 calls with a total of 645 people receiving services.
Those services include the Call to Change (C2C) Program that is available in every county. C2C is an enhanced case management program for individuals who are beginning the process of stopping their gambling. This service is offered in both English and Spanish.
Licensed counselors are available 24 hours a day to assist North Carolina residents and coordinate free, confidential in-person or phone-based counseling.
By calling, texting or using online chats with the Problem Gambling Hotline, someone with a gambling problem or their loved ones can receive referrals for free, confidential sessions with a local counselor.
Help is available 24 hours a day by: texting morethanagamenc to 53342, joining a live web chat at www.morethanagamenc.com or calling the toll-free helpline.
There are many good providers available in the area for this,” Janis Nutt, area director, Johnston County Mental Health said. “The Behavioral Health Unit of Johnston County Public Health (919-938-6400) or Alliance Behavioral Healthcare (1-800-510-9132) can make assessments and referrals to treatment for gambling or other addiction.”
“NC law mandates free initial therapy sessions for anyone who asks for help with gambling addiction,” Johnston County therapist Robert Cooke said. “I have had one church member consult about a family member who was spending too much money at local sweepstakes parlors.”
Cooke said therapists must be certified addiction specialists to receive state referrals.
Gambling has become a serious problem for young people. According to the state report, the frequency estimates for weekly gambling and problem gambling are much higher for young people than for adults.
Helpline data indicated the largest age group of first-time gamblers is 18-24, followed by ages 25-34.
The state offers mini grants, up to $5,000 to middle and high schools to present Stacked Deck, an evidence-based curriculum for problem gambling prevention among teens and young adults.
Stacked Deck is focused on grades 9-12. According to Hazelden Publishing, which produces Stacked Deck, it is the only curriculum proven effective in changing youth gambling behaviors.
More than 40 middle and high schools in North Carolina are presenting the Stacked Deck curriculum.
Provider access has increased this year with close to 100 licensed clinicians, who have both experience and special training in treating gambling disorders.
Among those calling, according to the 2015 NCDHHS annual report, 77 percent were from problem gamblers and 23 percent were from family members of a problem gambler.
The callers were 53 percent male and 47 percent female. Of the over half who used the hotline, 51 percent, were white, 44 percent were African-American and 5 percent were either Asian American or Hispanic. Over half reported their length of gambling to be five years or less.
According to the report, 37 percent of the callers said their primary gambling problem was the lottery, followed by sweepstakes at 36 percent and casino gambling in Cherokee at 9 percent.
Hotline callers report financial problems that include paying household bills, borrowing from family and friends, using equity or savings, writing bad checks and stealing.
While the lottery gains most of the media attention, there are other forms of gambling in the state including scratch cards, sweepstakes, poker, sports gambling and bingo.
Services are at no cost to problem gamblers and others who are affected by problem gambling.
NCDHHS spokesperson Kate Murphy said its annual report doesn’t provide a breakdown of data by county, as precise numbers are difficult to pinpoint.
According to the 2015 NCDHHS annual report, people are gambling less. The percentage of people who don’t gamble has increased from 68 percent in 2010 to 76 percent in 2014.
Most people typically wagered $5 or less on the day they gambled. In 2014, 62.7 percent bet $5 or less per gambling day, 26.4 percent spent $6-$20, 8.3 percent spent $21-$100, while 2.7 spent more than $100.
The reports states that in 2014, about 15 percent of those who gambled at least once in the past year tried to cut down on their gambling; nearly 4 percent lied to family and friends about their gambling, while over 4 percent had periods in the past two weeks when they thought about their gambling or planned future gambling.
In next week’s article, health care and law enforcement officials, therapists and clergy share their views on gambling and information on a Selma-based addiction recovery program.
The Christian Action League has posted this article with permission of the Johnstonian News Group.