By most accounts, the expansion of gambling in the state of Maine over the last three years has been a success. There is now a second full casino in Oxford, while the state’s first casino – Hollywood Casino – has been allowed to expand to offer table games along with slots. And all this has occurred without a sizeable increase in the incidence of problem gambling.
Or, at least, that’s what state officials hope. Unfortunately, they don’t yet have enough information to be certain.
“We don’t have any prevalence data for how big a problem there is in Maine,” said Christine Theriault, a manager at the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. According to Theriault, doing a prevalence study would cost tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars, making such an effort cost-prohibitive.
The problem actually goes back to 2010, when the Maine state legislature first decided they needed to determine how much money to spend on gambling addiction services. Some state lawmakers pointed out that the National Council on Problem Gambling had received more than 1,200 calls from Maine residents over the past year. But others noted that there had been few calls about gambling addiction from Maine’s own 211 helpline.
In the end, legislators ultimately decided that treatment programs would receive a $50,000 allocation, which would eventually increase to $100,000 starting this year. The funds come from the revenues of Hollywood Casino, which pays them as a part of its normal payments to the state, rather than as an extra charge.
In the absence of any real data, that money has been going primarily into educational efforts. These have included placing information about problem gambling and phone numbers gamblers can call for help on napkins and other objects in the casinos themselves. Extra money has gone into pilot programs for treating problem gamblers, though these programs have yet to actually start serving any clients.
According to a report in the Bangor Daily News, there have been cases in which Maine residents have been charged with crimes related to gambling addictions. For instance, one woman was sentenced to more than three years in prison after stealing $300,000 from mobile home sales in order to play at Hollywood Casino. Another young woman received a similar sentence after stealing mail in an effort to find checks and credit cards she could use to fund her drug and gambling addictions.
There are some steps that problem gamblers can take in Maine if they want to seek help. Most notably, both Maine casinos use a self-exclusion program in which gamblers may be added to a “no-admittance” list, after which casinos will not let them on the floor.
But in the absence of data on exactly what’s going on in Maine in regards to gambling addiction, both state officials and casinos are limited in their options. For Responsible Gaming Education Week, Hollywood Casino is trying a creative idea: sending a costumed lobster (named Clawd) and a bilingual chef around Bangor to teach residents about how to gamble in a safe and responsible manner.
“No matter what language you speak, we should all speak about responsible gaming,” said Hollywood Casinos’ director of finance John Gibboni.