Gambling addictions: Not just about hitting the jackpot

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Within the last four years, 11 casinos and racinos have opened in Ohio.

These gaming facilities are being used to help balance Ohio’s government budget. Most people use them for fun, as places where they can get lucky enough to hit the jackpot.

But for some people, a gambling addiction can become a life-controlling problem.

Ohio for Responsible Gambling says 5 percent of gamblers in the nation have a problem.

Stephanie Geer, a gambling counselor at Meridian HealthCare, says someone with a gambling addiction needs help budgeting, finding his or her triggers and talking about the problem.

“We like to create an environment where people can become open and comfortable with each other in the group,” Geer said.

Being addicted to gambling is just like being addicted to drugs. The high is called being “in the zone,” where you are no longer aware of your surroundings. The quick play of slot machines can become very addictive. But, the players aren’t only chasing after the jackpot.

“Sometimes the losses, with the dopamine piece, can be more addictive. However, when someone has a problem with gambling, in the end it’s not about the money,” Geer said.

She also says another contributing factor is the fact that the buildings don’t have windows, so you can really get lost in that zone. The buildings are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“This reward system get lighted up in our brain, this idea, this unpredictable reward that can happen. So dopamine starts flowing within our brain,” Geer said.

Mike Galle is the general manager at Hollywood Gaming in Austintown. He says most people who go there treat the place like an entertainment center.

“So, the vast majority of the people that do participate in gaming don’t have a problem,” Galle said.

Team members of Hollywood Gaming go through training every year to learn signs of gambling addictions and how to help. If someone shows a problem with gambling, he or she can sign up to be banned from entering gaming facilities across the country. If they violate the rules, they can be charged with trespassing.

Signs include borrowing money to bet, becoming irritated when not gambling or hiding the amount of time spent at casinos.

Casinos spend 2 percent of their income and racinos spend .5 percent to help fund the fight against addiction.

“Do you think it could be a high percent? Well, we’re going to look at that based on the numbers that come in from the next survey and see if it’s in fact needed,” said Karen Russo from The Ohio Lottery Community Outreach.

Those survey results will be released in 2017.

Ohio for Responsible Gambling’s “Gambling Week” will begin August 1. This is when education is offered to employees and patrons of gaming facilities to help them learn more about problem gaming.

The group also states that around 80 percent of addicted gamblers consider killing themselves, and one out of five actually attempt to take their own lives.

If you know someone at risk, you can visit The 95 Percent or the Ohio Casino Control Commission’s websites.

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