State gambling board walks fine line on problem gamblers
By Rachel Weaver and Bill Vidonic
Published: Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, 8:54 p.m.
The father with a car full of balloons misses his son's birthday party because he stops at the casino.
A man claims he doesn't have a gambling problem, he has a “money problem.”
They're characters from a gambling-awareness media blitz that resumed as Pennsylvania lawmakers consider expanding the state's gambling industry by adding keno games. Money for the campaign, which started two years ago, comes from the state's Compulsive and Problem Gambling Treatment Fund, to which all licensed gaming entities contribute a combined minimum of $2 million a year.
Richard McGarvey, the state Gaming Control Board's spokesman, acknowledged the conflict between spending on anti-gambling messages while considering expansion. But it's usually in the casinos' best interest not to encourage problem gamblers who might leave their kid in a car or steal from an employer to support their habit, he said.
“They'd much rather avoid problem gamblers and the problems that can come with them,” McGarvey said.
TV commercials, radio spots, billboards and bus shelter posters began appearing in November and are scheduled to continue through March in the regions surrounding casinos. Special ATM receipts at machines and ads at the top of gas pumps near casinos have information on how to get help with problem gambling.
The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates, based on state or regional studies, that about 2 million people nationwide are pathological gamblers. An additional 4 million to 6 million are considered problem gamblers.
Officials said studies suggest 2 percent to 3 percent of Pennsylvanians will experience a serious problem associated with gambling, including accumulating significant debt, experiencing family problems, losing a job or becoming involved in crime. It's not clear how many of those have sought treatment.
Gambling has become big business since the first casino opened in November 2006. Pennsylvania is second only to Nevada in casino revenue, and regulators say total tax revenue through June 2012 reached $6.2 billion.
In addition to adding keno games, the Gaming Control Board will hear a proposal for a casino license in Philadelphia at a public forum Feb. 12. In October, the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission approved a deal designed to help a proposed racetrack and casino called Valley View Downs open in Lawrence County.
The gambling board has other programs to help people with problems. As part of the licensing process, a casino has to develop a problem-gambling prevention plan, including training employees to recognize the signs and symptoms of addicts, McGarvey said.
The board also allows people to put their names on a statewide list indicating they should not be allowed in a casino. Violators can be arrested for trespassing. Since 2007, more than 4,000 people have signed up. Police have logged 730 violations.
Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman in Gov. Tom Corbett's office, said calls to a gambling hot line increased 18 percent in the month the last media campaign was most active.
Tom Shaheen, vice president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which helped to spearhead a movement in the 1990s against expanding gambling in the state, said he wasn't sure how effective the latest round of messages will be, but acknowledged them as a “good use” of government money.
“(Gambling's) a real problem that's affected families,” Shaheen said. “But by using a simple ad campaign to serve as a warning, like we do with cigarettes, I think it's worth doing.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Parking tickets in Downtown Pittsburgh spark outrage
- Allegheny County Democrats endorse several incumbents in primary
- Context key to 2nd trial of Pittsburgh police officers in Homewood man’s arrest
- Western Pennsylvania organizations team to find housing for vets
- Newsmaker: Dr. Yoel Sadovsky
- Photo gallery: Swing for a Cure
- Postal Service pays $180K for unopened site
- Ailing Downtown August Wilson Center awaits rescue; no real estate offers yet
- Newsmaker: Jack Goodrich
- House fire in Carnegie, no injuries reported
- Trib’s Hiel honored for reporting on Coptic Christians