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David Baxter

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Addiction in the Cards? On-site Counselors Could Help You Deal
Boston Herald
October 26, 2007

Gambling addicts who hit the skids amid the joyful jingle of slots inside Bay State casinos could get counseling help without even leaving the gaming palaces, under a little-known provision in the governor's plan that would be a first in the nation.

Gov. Deval Patrick's three-casino legislation requires the proposed establishments to provide high-traffic space free of charge for "an independent substance abuse and mental health counseling service" of the state's choosing.

"It's just so different from what is normally done at casinos," said Margot Cahoon of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling. "The casinos offer day care and all sorts of different services. We feel this is an important one, too."

It's one of many ways the state would deal with the expected spike in gambling-related problems, should casinos open here, according to Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby.

"We thought for somebody who recognized in the moment they needed help, it would be very helpful to find somebody right on-site," Bigby said.

The plan could cost the casinos more than $1 million a year to run, based on a Canadian model, but some experts say there's no evidence that it works.

Manitoba casinos in 2002 were the first to offer "responsible gaming centers" on-site. Two years ago, two of the four Vegas-style resorts in Ontario opened space in the front, staffed 24 hours a day by "prevention specialists," who do interventions but not long-term treatment. It costs about $1.6 million a year to run.

"It acts as a bridge to counseling," said Teresa Roncon, spokeswoman for the government-run Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which operates 26 casinos in all.

The idea is so hot that it's on the agenda at the American Gaming Association's annual Las Vegas meeting next month, said AGA spokeswoman Holly Thomsen.

"It's definitely something that's not been tested on a large scale or even a small scale in the states, but clearly there's interest in it," she said.
 

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