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The WVXU News Department presents a special series on the opening of the new Horseshoe Casino, exploring issues like security, parking, development around the area, gambling addiction, and much more.

Gambling with addiction?

Most people think of drugs or alcohol when they hear the word "addiction." But gambling can be addictive too, especially for those also dealing with drug or alcohol problems. In part four of our series leading up to the Cincinnati Casino opening, WVXU's Tana Weingartner takes a look at gambling addiction.

Gambling addiction. It's the seedy, dark side of Ohio's glitzy new casinos. A reason some used for opposing them.

According to various estimates, 2-5 percent of adults may have a gambling problem. For teens, problem gambling rates are 2-3 times higher. To combat the issue, Ohio law requires two percent of gambling revenues go toward addiction treatment programs.

Jennifer Shatley is vice president of responsible gaming policies and compliance with Horseshoe Casino's parent company, Ceasars Entertainment. She says employees are trained to help identify people who may have gambling problems by simply listening.

"It could be something quite indirect but sort of in your face like, 'I just lost all my rent money' or 'I shouldn't be coming back here.'"

Responsible Gaming Ambassadors may then offer assistance contacting addiction programs.

"Things like the self-exclusion program through the casino or the Ohio state voluntary exclusion program or even restriction options where they can cut off access to certain amenities," she says.

Of the 45 million customers in the Ceasars database, there are roughly 40,000-50,000 who've requested to bar themselves. Casinos may also choose to bar problem gamblers, though Shatley says those numbers are very low.

Horseshoe Casino interior (91).JPG
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Responsible gaming pamphlets can be found throughout the casino.

It's easy to get caught up in the flashing lights and clicking chips inside Horseshoe Cincinnati but if you look closely, there are signs posted for those with questions. Plaques with the gambling addiction hotline adorn ATM's along with responsible gaming pamphlets.

Often times though, the problem isn't just finding help, it's recognizing you need it.

Bill Epps is director of outpatient services at the Central Community Health Board in Corryville. His agency gets Cincinnati's portion of the gambling addiction treatment funds.

"Most individuals define program gambling as an individual who has experienced adverse consequences and despite those adverse consequences - adverse meaning financial consequences, family problems - they're not able to discontinue their gambling," he explains.

Epps says gambling is a compulsion and its diagnosis is easily missed because there are few outward signs like track marks on a drug addict or the smell of whisky on an alcoholic's breath.

Counselors can identify problem gamblers using the South Oakes Gambling Screen, a series of questions gauging someone's impressions about their own gambling. Next counselor's use cognitive therapy to help people change the way they think about gambling and develop action plans.

Says Epps, "When they recognize themselves as being in a high-risk situation where there are numerous triggers that instigate gambling for the individual, you help them develop a plan of how to extricate themselves from that situation and revert a relapse into gambling behavior."

Epps says a comprehensive outpatient program used to treat about 30 people each year. But it was discontinued because of funding cuts. Last year, the Central Community Health Board treated just one person for gambling addiction. The agency will use the tax revenue funds from Ohio's casinos to offer new counseling services.

Epps says help requests spiked when the casinos opened in neighboring Indiana and he expects to see another spike with the Horseshoe opening. He's not the only one.

Al A. is a compulsive gambler. He helps organize the Gamblers Anonymous meeting at a church near his home.

He says, "This will be right Downtown where people can go to lunch and a lot of them won't go back to work. They'll go there for lunch and find a reason to stay the entire afternoon."

Al started gambling in his teens. He's in his 70's now and says he's been clean for four years. He's retired but working a second full-time job to pay off his gambling debts. He'd maxed out his credit cards, cleaned out his 401K and says he would've mortgaged his house but his wife refused to sign.

"My children had urged my wife to get a divorce. They said, 'Mom, if you don't, you're going to end up with nothing.' And they were right. Luckily she didn't. She stood by me and supported me through all these years. Although, you know, the hurt's still there," he says.

Al says God led him back to the 12-step Gamblers Anonymous program where he warns younger people to stop now before they end up like him.

"I've found most of the people that I've come in contact {with} in the past four years are good people they just had a bad habit."

When Al first sought help in the 1960's, there were only a handful of GA meetings in the Greater Cincinnati region. Now there's at least one every day of the week.

GA also offers support groups for family members.