WATERVILLE, Maine — Lena Densmore, a coach who helps former gambling addicts, said she ended up losing her house and car and living in a tent for months.
The keynote speaker at the first state conference on problem gambling said helping addicts isn’t easy.
“Addiction is the one illness you have to convince somebody they have and then beg them to treat,” Densmore said.
More than than 50 counselors, social workers and other professionals who deal with treating addictions met at the Maine National Guard building Thursday.
The gathering coincided with National Problem Gambling Awareness Week and was sponsored by the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, the Maine Gambling Control Board, the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations and the Oxford and Hollywood casinos.
The audience also heard from a panel that included Maine Gambling Control Board Director Patrick Fleming, Bangor Health Promotion Program Manager Jamie Comstock and Michael Woodman of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.
Christine Theriault, a behavioral health manager at the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, and managers from the Bangor and Oxford casinos were also panelists.
Tricia Johnson, compliance manager for Oxford Casino, and John Osborne of Hollywood Casino in Bangor, said it isn’t the responsibility of casino employees to differentiate between big spenders and addicts. However, they said their casinos maintain “self-exclusion” lists, which allow a player to be kept from gambling at the facilities. They also keep literature on problem gambling on hand for anyone who requests it.
Osborne said Hollywood Casino has an exclusion list of more than 220 people, about half of whom are on the list for life. When asking to be excluded, people can request to be kept out of the casino for a year or more.
He said self-exclusion is a “non-negotiable” process. Sometimes people come back and ask to be removed from the list. The first time, Osborne said, those people are escorted from the casino and warned not to return. The second time, the casino has them arrested for trespassing.
Johnson said Oxford Casino, which opened last June, has about 30 people on its self-exclusion list. She said that number is creeping up as people who excluded themselves from Hollywood Casino begin coming to Oxford.
Fleming said the state is looking to take over the exclusion lists from the casinos to create one statewide list. However, the state must first pass legislation making the names on those lists confidential so they won’t be subject to the Freedom of Access Act, he said.
Theriault, who organized the conference, said the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services is “gambling neutral.” She said casinos have agreed to use cocktail napkins made by the office that contain information on problem gambling. Casino money also helps fund problem gambling prevention and treatment programs.
Throughout the conference, speakers made it clear that casinos and the state lottery operations were working together with the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services to combat problem gambling.
Woodman said the state lottery has changed its message from “Play responsibly” to “Keep it fun. Play responsibly.” He said the goal is to point out the line between playing for fun and playing because one has a problem.
“If it’s no longer fun, we don’t want those people to play,” Woodman said.