March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month

Zion Integrated Behavioral Health Services is spreading the word about Problem Gambling Awareness month.
At the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors meeting Feb. 20, the supervisors approved a proclamation recognizing March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month. The nationwide grassroots campaign is held annually, and seeks to increase public awareness of problem gambling and promote prevention, treatment, and recovery services.
Amanda McCall is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor and a Gambling Treatment Counselor with Zion. She started with the organization in 2020 after working with another agency providing gambling treatment. She’s been specifically working in gambling treatment since around 2015. She was drawn to the field in college.
“My advisor at the time told me that I should look into addiction. I did an internship in a residential unit for substance abuse in 2012, and addiction with gambling treatment really stuck. I’ve had experience with gambling in my family and it really connected with me. I can still provide service for those with drug and alcohol addiction, but usually the people that seek treatment for gambling come through my door wanting the help, rather than being forced to with other addictions,” explained McCall.
McCall highlighted the fact that while gambling can be very addictive, much like alcohol, it is not illegal, but said she’s not an advocate for completely outlawing gambling.
“It’s a socially-accepted activity like alcohol is. When you get married, or engaged, or have a birthday or Christmas party, oftentimes alcohol is involved, and gambling is involved. I am not anti-gambling. However, when it’s interfering with your relationships, or your work, or your finances, that’s where we need to take a pause and say, okay, this isn’t working out for me, I need to reduce or abstain. It’s the same for alcohol as well,” said McCall.
McCall shared some steps people can take before going to a brick and mortar casino to keep from developing problems.
“If you’re going to go to a casino, plan your budget and only take that amount. You can take cash out or advance your checks at the casino, so if you feel it’s going to be a concern, leave the checkbook at home, leave the cash cards at home, and only take what you’re willing to spend. Take a friend with you also. Some of our friends can help us make better decisions. Also, set a timer, there’s no clocks in the building, so set an alarm and make sure you exit the casino at that time,” advised McCall. “If you’re with a party, and you run out of money while the rest of the party is still playing, you can get some food, or sometimes they have concerts or music. Do some preventative things in the hopes of preventing yourself from overdoing it, just as you would for alcohol.”
Additionally, McCall said there are some things people should look at from a personal level before they consider visiting a casino.
“You know yourself the best. If you find yourself having cravings of wanting more, or setting aside important things so you can gamble, or find yourself thinking about gambling, those are some red flags that would indicate that you shouldn’t go.”
With the changing of times, and the advancements of technology, problem gambling has stretched beyond simply spending hours at the casino to access to gambling apps right from a cell phone, particularly sports betting.
“I could give you 10 seconds and you could reach for your phone. That’s where sports betting is typically happening. Prior to COVID-19, you had to go into a brick and mortar building, and prove who you were before you even downloaded the app. No one has to do that anymore. You can download the app immediately and begin betting right away. As soon as you sign up, you’re going to get all sorts of notifications and emails reminding you about the app,” commented McCall. “They do that because they know it works and that you’re going to be putting your money into the app. Also, they sometimes do promotions where they give you money to bet, but if you get $150 or $250, you have to bet the free money in $50 increments, you can’t spread it out with smaller bets. Also, it’s not a bank account. If you win, it’s sitting there, and it takes a few days to transfer back to your account. There are also a lot of fraudulent betting apps out there, so if you do partake in sports betting, make sure it’s registered with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission or something similar so you know your betting and getting real money.”
Another problem McCall noted was the fact that most people do all their banking online and don’t carry cash, so people don’t see the money leaving their hands and can sometimes spend too much on betting without realizing it.
McCall also warned of the risks of apps that have an appearance of a gaming table or slot machine, but don’t end up giving you any money.
“There are apps that may not pay you out. They’ll come up with some reason why they can’t and there more of a scam type of app. I have people struggling with video game apps and that’s their addiction. Some people will spend working hours playing on the app which becomes a concern. Also, you don’t see the money leaving your account for those types of games, so if you put money into it, you may not get it back. There are some that can be played for free. If someone has an addictive personality, that could cause them some cravings or triggers and make them want to relapse on their gambling of choice. In some cases, it can be used as a preventative measure as long as it’s not affecting your time and relationships,” stated McCall.
Roughly 10% of the population of the U.S. has a problem with gambling. However, in this area, McCall said she has a low caseload. However, McCall added that some people may not identify as having a problem.
“Some may say they’ve only lost a month or two of rent while others have embezzled thousands of dollars to keep gambling. They’re the ones with the problem. I want to raise that awareness. The concern goes beyond the financial. It could be that you missed your kid’s concert. It’s something you value but instead you gambled. Or you value your home and gambled away a mortgage payment. Or maybe your spousal relationship is being strained from gambling.”
McCall also warned of the dangers of gambling when depressed or not in a healthy state of mind.
“Gambling feeds the feel-good feelings of serotonin. You’ll feel good momentarily, but in the end, you may be making a bigger spiral downward. A total of 80% of those that call the national hotline admit to suicidal ideation. We know that there’s a lot of mental health concerns with gambling, and it can be used as a coping skill,” McCall said. “Then you keep gambling to feel a different type of way, the cycle continues, and then it turns into addiction.”
McCall also said if someone has lot money gambling, not to chase recovering that loss unless they can absolutely afford it.
“If you can spend the extra $100 or whatever your budget allows and are doing it for entertainment, then go for it. But if you are losing, and you feel that you shouldn’t be doing this, it’s time to get up and move on and find an alternative coping skill. We can very easily catch ourselves causing a mess,” McCall stated.
McCall also said that businesses may want to review policies, as March Madness brackets or lottery pools can trigger recovering gambling addicts.
“We have staff that can help you explore workplace policies. We should explore gambling in the workplace, not just for the employer, but the employee. Encouraging things like March Madness or company pools, if someone is in recovery, they shouldn’t have to be exposed to that while at work. Much like with addiction, it can be distracting while a person is working. Some organizations track website usage and have reported gambling websites being accessed on work computers. We have the policies all written out, so all the employer has to do is sign the bracket.”
McCall urged anyone who feels they have a problem to make the right call.
“By calling 1-800-BETS Off, you’re connecting directly to a professional. You’re not automatically banned, you’re not automatically signing yourself up for treatment. We can also help a concerned person. If they have a spouse that is gambling and they’re not ready to get help, we can speak to them about preventative measures or different ways we can better the relationship. To speak directly to me, they can call 712-254-3415 and ask for Amanda,” commented McCall. “Having a conversation with me costs no money. I’ll give you some feedback, listen to what’s going on, and see if we can make a relationship to help you through that. We do eventually bill your insurance, but we also have a sliding fee scale if you need services but don’t have insurance.”
McCall added she was grateful the supervisors approved the proclamation to help spread problem gambling awareness.
“It’s not on the forefront of everyone’s mind as far as addiction goes, so to have them agree to proclaim March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month makes me happy, as it’s acknowledged that it’s a concern, and they’re going to let us raise that awareness in Montgomery County,” McCall said.

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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