In Maryland, Gambling Addiction is Rampant; Treatment Options Lacking

In Maryland, Gambling Addiction is Rampant; Treatment Options Lacking

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Author: Shernide Delva

Gambling can stimulate the brain’s rewards system much like drugs and alcohol can. Gambling addiction is a serious condition that can destroy lives. When gambling becomes addictive, it means you are willing to risk something in order to get something of even greater value. Sometimes this can mean straining relationships you have with your family and friends in order to satisfy the urge to gamble.

There is a state having a huge issue with gambling addiction and this time, it isn’t Nevada.  The tiny state of Maryland is home to one of the largest concentrated casino markets in the country. As gambling addiction continues to rise, few treatment centers options are available for resident causing their addiction to get worse.

In 2009, a state survey revealed that an estimated 150,000 residents suffer from moderate to severe gambling addiction. The state’s toll-free hotline for problem gambling has taken 619 calls in the past year from people struggling with compulsive gambling up. This number is up from 431 two years prior. Police were called on four different occasions on account of children and seniors being left unattended in cars while their parents or caregivers were inside gambling.

Clearly, the issue is increasing in severity every day. Over 893 problem gamblers, desperate to free themselves of their addiction, legally banned themselves from entering a casino through the state’s Voluntary Exclusion program. Casinos reported 37 people who were unable to follow through with the ban.

Unfortunately, there are no treatment options in Maryland to address gambling addiction. To make matters worse, most of these problem gamblers do not have health insurance or access to funds to cover private addiction treatment. The funds they could have used were gambled all away.

“When gamblers reach out to us, they’re in crisis … it’s out of control, they don’t have any money,” said Deborah Haskins, president of the Maryland Council on Problem Gambling. “When the person doesn’t have treatment as an option, it’s like you’re putting a brick wall in front of them. You’re commending them for taking the first steps, but then you have nothing else to provide them. It’s very frustrating.”

Each year, casinos in Maryland are required to contribute to the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that addresses problem gambling. The casino’s pay $425 per slot machine and $500 per table game each year. The funds only came to only $4 million last fiscal year. Most of the money ended up going to the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling. The program focuses on increasing the amount of gambling addiction counselors and running the addiction hotline, among other services, but it’s not used for actual treatment

Vegas Came To Maryland

So I’m writing this wondering how a state like Maryland ended up so massive on the casino bandwagon. Five years ago, Maryland had just opened its first casino. Since then, four more have debuted and a giant $1.3 billion resort casino, MGM National Harbor, is set to open next year.

From a financial standpoint, Maryland is cashing in big time. The state took in $1 billion in the last fiscal year. Out of that money, the state’s cut was $487 million and $388 was used for Maryland’s Education Trust Funds.

It’s clear the state made a worthwhile financial investment but the consequences for addiction are all too real.  Gambling is one of the most deceptive of all human vices. It presents the illusion of easy money but can quickly lead into financial ruin. The odds are never in your favor when the purpose of the system is to make a profit.

As a result of the financial stress gambling addiction results in, often gamblers turn to drugs, alcohol and other addictive behavior to alleviate the anxiety brought on by the gambling lifestyle. They may struggle with drug and alcohol addiction for the rest of their life after years of self-medicating to deal with the stress. The stress of it call can result in strained relationships and isolation.

Maryland’s economy continues to thrive from the casino industry however compulsive gamblers have to deal with the consequences of their actions. These consequences include everything from home foreclosure and bankruptcies to domestic abuse, robberies and embezzlement.

Gambling in America costs the United States between $32.4 billion to $53.8 billion per year. The long term costs outweigh the economic benefits by a greater than 3:1 ration. Maryland has a choice to progress toward providing treatment and solutions to the gambling addiction crisis before it gets out of control. The consequences could overpower the risks.

If you feel you are starting to develop an addiction to gambling, seek help before the addiction takes control of your life. Luckily, there is help. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135