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Gambling Addiction: Maine Seeks Solutions as Gambling Expands
03/07/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

As many as nine million Americans will have a gambling problem in a given year, according to statistics on the Web site of the National Council on Problem Gambling. With the expansion of new casinos and other forms of gaming in Maine comes the risk that more people here will become addicted. In Waterville today, the state held its first ever conference on problem gambling. Jay Field paid a visit.

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Gambling Addiction: Maine Seeks Solutions as Gamb Listen

In late January, problem gambling got a new definition in the DSM. That's the book put out by the American Psychiatric Association to disagnose mental health conditions. For 33 years, the DSM defined problem gambling as an impulse control disorder, before finally re-labeling it a behavioral addiction.

It's a more accurate description of the problem Lesa Desmore struggled with. Densmore, who's in her early 40s now, started gambling as a kid, growing up in the Gardiner area. "You know, maybe playing some penny poker around the kitchen table, some basic scratch off tickets here and there," she says. "And then it progressed into very intense bingo for me."

Densmore eventually relocated to upstate New York, where she built a fitness, nutrition and wellness counseling practice, and discovered what she calls the crack cocaine of gambling addiction: video poker.

"I would work maybe a few hours and then I would - I would go - I would go to a casino somewhere," she says. "And I would spend my entire day there. I would lIve in my car, in the parking lot at the casino, and I would go in with the same clothes the next day."

Densmore's business fell apart. She lost her house, had two cars repossessed and ended up living in a tent for eighth months.

"I'm lying more. I'm manipulating more, and feeling out of control and not good as a person - a loser, incapable, weak, morally weak," she said. "I'd been thinking about ways to end my life for a little while, waking up the next day, and it hadn't happened. I went back to the casino."

With the help of family and friends, Densmore eventually made it into a residential treatment program for gambling addiction. She's a professional recovery coach now, counseling gambling addicts. She also travels the country, speaking at conferences. On Thursday, she traveled home to Maine to address the state's first inaugural conference on problem gambling in Waterville.

"So this is National Problem Gambling Awareness Week, so our effort is to try to get the information out this week," says
Christine Theriault, who organized the conference. She's a behavioral health manager with the state's Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

After a lengthy presentation by Densmore, a crowd of around 50 listened as a panel debated steps Maine should be taking to address problem gambling. The group included representatives from the Gambling Control Board, the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations and the Hollywood and Oxford Casinos.

Theriault says that, so far, the casinos have been good partners on the issue of problem gambling.

"We have monthly conference calls to talk about what eachother's doing. We've collaborated on responsible gaming week, which is usually happening in August. They've promoted our 'Safe Bet' campaign by using our 'Safe Bet' napkins, which have information on the napkins that talk about how people can gamble responsibly," she says.

In addition to the napkin campaign, Oxford Casino has lots of brouchers through out the facility that alert patrons to the dangers posed by problem gaming. Tricia Johnson is the casino's point person for making sure Oxford follows all state and federal regulations.

"One of my roles is to train all of our employees. We have over 400 employees," she says. "So we touch upon problem gambling and making them aware of the addictive behaviors, in case they see it within their own families or within gamblers at the casino."

And Johnson says the casino is also working with Healthy Oxford Hills, a community health agency, to raise awareness through out the Oxford Region.


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