Casino Control Commission Builds Awareness About Problem Gaming
CHRISTIANSTED — The Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission, chaired by Violet Anne Golden, held a public hearing today to take testimony from local and national experts about the problems associated with gambling addictions.
Keith Wyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gaming, said if the territory follows the national average that the Virgin Islands should have “just under 2,000” people affected by gambling addictions.
Stephanie Barnes, director of ABC Behavioral Consulting Services, LLC, said that she will conduct an outreach program in the territory to try to determine the exact number of people who have an unhealthy gambling addiction.
The problems associated with gambling addiction can lead to financial problems that could spur some people to such extreme measures as suicide, according to Dr. Joseph Bullock of Arlington, Virginia.
Since radio ads began offering an 800 number for people with family members who they believe have a gambling addiction, Barnes said she has received about 10 calls per week from those seeking help.
“I am a native Virgin Islander, but I will help you if you call from Antigua,” Barnes said, adding that people from neighboring Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands have heard the campaign and called for help.
Most of the callers say they are calling from St. Thomas and St. John, where video lottery termials (VLTs) are permitted, she said.
But the members of today’s presentation as part of the National Problem Gaming month of March said that they are “gambling neutral” when it comes to someone’s decision about whether to gamble or not.
Anton Kuipers, who manages the Divi Carina Bay Resort in St. Croix, said that the number of people who face a problem with a gambling addiction is a relatively small segment of the overall gaming population and that it is a problem comparable to overspending or overeating.
Wyte agreed, saying that people challenged by gambling addictions are more likely to be men or disabled military veterans and that their brains appear different than others when scanned electronically.
People with gambling problems are similar to people with other addiction problems, such as drugs, excessive shopping, excessive eating or alcohol problems, the experts said.
Barnes recounted the story of one woman in the Virgin Islands who had spent $150,000 gambling since 2007. Most women gamble because they are lonely and have outlived their husbands, she said.
People usually develop a gambling problem because of an early big success at gambling and spend the rest of their lives unsuccessfully “chasing” that high from their first success, Wyte said.
It can take 90 days to one year to cure someone of a gambling addiction that might have taken seven to 15 years to develop, Bullock said.
On average, women seek help sooner than men, usually after five to seven years of struggling with an addiction, according to Wyte. Men who have a gambling problem typically wait 15 years before seeking help, he said.
The public awareness campaign about problem gaming was financed entirely by funds provided by the Divi Carina Bay Resort in St. Croix, Golden said.
Roderick Moorehead, a Casino Control commissioner and former University of the Virgin Islands professor, said that Virgin Islanders have long had a fascination about gambling and have historically been willing to bet on almost anything, including which of two bugs will crawl up the wall the fastest.
Problem gaming experts Wyte and Bullock from the U.S. mainland said privately after the public hearing that many jurisdictions stateside could learn from the pro-active information program that the Casino Control Commission has embarked on thanks to the leadership of Golden spearheading the issue locally.
If you feel that you have a problem with a gambling addiction or have a family member who does, the help from Barnes is free of charge.
The toll free problem gambling hotline is staffed 24 hours per day and seven days per week. Please call 1-(800) 522-4700 if you know someone who needs help.
Be sure to watch in-depth video interviews with the people interviewed for this article at the V.I. Free Press’ Facebook page.
Stephanie Barnes fields a question after the hearing.