More than five decades after establishing the first state lottery, New Hampshire is for the first time dedicating a portion of lottery profits toward treatment for gambling addiction.
Governor Chris Sununu signed a bill Wednesday that legalized the electronic lottery game Keno, using the revenue to boost funding for full-day kindergarten programs.
Under the bill, 1 percent of Keno revenue will be set aside for treatment, prevention, and research to address problem gambling.
New Hampshire Council on Problem Gambling Executive Director Ed Talbot says that funding is much needed.
“Currently there are limited services in the state,” he said. “Myself and one of the people on the board have a Massachusetts certification to counsel people with a gambling problem. There’s no certification currently in the state of New Hampshire, nor a program to do it. We’d like to be involved in setting up something.”
It’s not yet clear how much revenue Keno will generate.
While the game is now legal, individual cities and towns must decide whether to allow it in their communities before it can operate.
You can read the entire Morning Edition interview with Ed Talbot below:
This council was formed three years ago – what does it do?
The council is meant to serve as the resource for the state of New Hampshire for problems associated with gambling. So far, there hasn’t been anything in the state other than three gamblers anonymous meetings all located in the southern tier of the state. Estimates in terms of the number of problem gamblers in the state range from 8,000 pathological or compulsive gamblers to 40,000 problem gamblers.
What’s the definition of a problem gambler?
A problem gambler is a person who may encounter a problem with their gambling, whether it be something on the home front, a financial situation, something with employment, a legal thing. He or she addresses the problem and then either refrains or refuses to gamble, or gambles responsibly again. The compulsive or pathological gambler is a person who crosses that line where there’s no turning back. It’s only going to get worse. That can result in death, imprisonment, or hopefully treatment.
And you suffered from a gambling addiction at one point in your life. Given that experience, what concerns do you have about expanded gambling and relying on it for revenue?
First of all, the NH Council itself and me personally don’t take a position for or against gambling. Ninety-five percent of the population can gamble and gamble responsibly. They take a fixed amount of money they want to wager, go down to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun or even in the state, and make their wagers. Win or lose, that’s it, and they leave and have a good time. But that other 5 percent is the percent we want to address. We’ve been fortunate in New Hampshire from day one, the executive director of the NH Lottery Commission Charles McIntyre has always said he feels there’s a social obligation for those that provide gambling to address the downside, which is problem or pathological gambling.
And the NH Lottery Commission is your funding source.
Yes. They’ve provided $25,000 each year for the last three years.
One percent of the revenue brought in by Keno will go toward funding gambling addiction treatment. Where will that money go?
I definitely think it will allow us to expand services. The 1 percent that is dedicated in the bill actually goes to the Department of Health and Human Services, and then that money will be dispersed by them for problem gambling services in the state. Two years ago at their request, we drew up a comprehensive plan for problem gambling services in New Hampshire that involved treatment, recovery support, research, educational things, advocacy, all of those things that should be addressed. Currently there are limited services in the state. Myself and one of the people on the board have a Massachusetts certification to counsel people with a gambling problem. There’s no certification currently in the state of New Hampshire, nor a program to do it. We’d like to be involved in setting up something.
Is there an estimate of how much this 1 percent of revenue will bring in?
I don’t know if they have any idea of how much Keno will actually bring in. I think it will be a substantial amount of money.
Are you envisioning having staff?
Yeah, we would definitely have staff. Right now, I’m a one-man show. I try to do as many presentations as I can. I man the cell phone I use for a help line. I don’t mind that because this is something I’ve always wanted to do. And I also feel like if I can help one person, and pass on that message of hope that there’s a better life out there.
Can you walk me through the process of what happens when someone calls you looking for help?
I have to tell you most of the calls we get are not from the problem gambler. They’re from the spouse, a loved one, or a parent. But when the gambler does call, I initially try to meet with that person if I can, get them to a gamblers anonymous meeting and accompany them if that can be set up. But most of the time it’s talking to a loved one. The advice I give to everyone is there’s two things you can do: you support every attempt the person makes toward recovery, except give them money. Two, you do nothing to that encourages them to keep gambling, especially giving that person money.
The infrastructure has been lacking overall, and I imagine with a dramatic expansion of gambling, there’s going to be more call for these services. How do you see that playing out? How do you get services to the North Country and rural areas?
One of the things I think is very beneficial to us is working with the people in the substance use disorder field. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to go around to recovery coach academies. There’s a lot of these people who are in recovery from substance use, and talk about problem gambling and identifying, and doing some screening. Seventy-two percent of problem gamblers have an alcohol problem. Thirty-eight percent of problem gamblers have a drug problem. There’s a lot of people who are dually addicted. I know myself if I had continued to gamble I positively would have had an alcohol problem.
So is the hope to use the knowledge and expertise of these addiction counselors around the state to screen for that and get problem gamblers into services?
What I’d like to see is in these recovery centers across the state, which is a wonderful resource for people who have a substance use disorder, and get a gamblers anonymous meeting in there. Go in there periodically, screen people. We don’t have to reinvent in the wheel or create a whole new division. That is already in place and I think we could work through there and really provide some help.