OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Only 245 problem gamblers sought treatment last year from one of the 12 certified gambling treatment providers contracted by the state, and officials say many other gambling addicts may not be aware of their treatment resources.
About one-third of the state money earmarked for helping problem gamblers is going unused, although treatment advocates insist it is not due to the lack of compulsive gamblers. They say the problem is a need for more public awareness.
There are 110 casinos in Oklahoma and the payouts for the state lottery have become more lucrative. In Louisiana and other states with casinos, the gambling help line must be placed on billboards that advertise them.
“The roadsides are inundated with casino billboards. And you know how many billboards we have in Oklahoma with the gambling help line number? Not one,” said Wiley Harwell, executive director of the Oklahoma Association for Problem and Compulsive Gambling.
The statewide advocacy organization contracts with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to maintain a 24-hour help line, offer community education and promote counseling services. The state spent $143,000 in 2008 to promote awareness about gambling addiction and treatment.
Gambling addiction counselor Cindy Satterfield believes at least 3 percent of Pottawatomie County’s population could have a gambling problem.
That estimate is based on a national study about populations living near casinos. If correct, more than 2,000 people in the county are struggling with a gambling issue.
“We know there are many more (problem gamblers) out there,” Satterfield said. “Either we’re not reaching them, or they haven’t hit rock bottom yet.”
Satterfield works at Gateway to Prevention and Recovery, the sole organization in the county with certified problem gambling counselors. She said there are only seven people in treatment now.
Harwell said casinos are the only sure place to find information about treatment. By law, casinos must have the information available, he said.
Caletta McPherson, a deputy commissioner with the state mental health agency, said treatment for gambling addiction is in its infancy.
Putting more resources into a public awareness campaign is being discussed, but it has not been determined how best to reach Oklahoma’s problem gamblers, McPherson said.