The Kentucky Council of Problem Gambling‘s 25th Annual Conference was held at the Holiday Inn on Thursday and will continue through Friday to address concerns about gambling disorders and problem gambling in the state.
According to RonSonlyn Clark, chairman of the board and senior director of addiction services at RiverValley Behavioral Health, gambling is a widespread problem in Kentucky, with at least 1 to 2 percent of the population struggling with gambling disorders and 2 to 4 % additional falling into a risk of compulsive or disorderly gambling.
Of Kentucky’s nearly 4.5 million residents, as many as 45,000 are likely to be considered disordered gamblers, according to council executive director Mike Stone.
The number of people likely to be problem gamblers or at risk of becoming problem or disorderly gamblers, he said, is about three times that number.
To put that number into perspective, Clark said, that would be roughly on par with the entire population of Daviess County.
There is a list of developed criteria that help mental health professionals determine an individual’s level of gambling addiction, according to Stone.
People who meet or exceed five or more of these criteria, he said, are considered disordered gamblers. Those who encounter at least two, he said, are considered problem gamblers and those who meet at least one criterion are considered at risk of becoming a problem gambler or developing a gambling disorder.
Expanding gambling accessibility, he said, hasn’t alleviated the problem in Kentucky, with online gambling being available and easily accessible from a person’s cell phone.
Plus, he said, it’s much harder to spot than a substance use disorder.
“It’s more secretive and less understood, even among addiction counselors,” he said.
A side effect of this, he said, is that many people with gambling problems don’t seek help.
In 2021, he said the Gambling Crisis Hotline only received about 600 calls, far fewer than the estimated number of disorderly gamblers.
What’s important, Clark said, is spreading education and awareness of the issue.
Gambling, Clark said, is seen as a process addiction.
A process addiction, she said, is a habit that an individual uses to deflect emotional trauma or pain and can include a multitude of things, such as shopping, overworking, overexercising and gambling.
“You use that to cover the pain,” she said. “You engage in these activities to cover up that pain, and when the pain from using that substance or that process becomes greater than the pain it’s covering up, that’s when counseling comes in.”
Gambling, she said, can lead to a plethora of other problems in an individual’s personal life, like any other addiction, including financial instability, legal problems, depression, anxiety and suicide.
Suicide, she said, is a widespread concern among disordered gamers.
“We’ve estimated that 20% of addicted gamers will attempt suicide, and that’s extremely high, so the clinic needs to be qualified to assess that, as well as provide treatment and manage that crisis,” she said. .
While there are counselors trained in treating addictive disorders, Clark said disordered gambling can be very different and requires a special level of training to manage.
In Kentucky, she said access to counselors trained in gambling addiction management is scarce with only two counselors operating locally, including herself.
“What’s important from my point of view is that people are trained to deal with these risky and addicted gamblers,” she said.
It’s also important, Stone said, to have access to additional support and resources to help a person begin to resolve their gambling issues.
Anyone needing more information or assistance with gambling issues can contact the Gaming Crisis Hotline, headquartered at RGBH by calling 1-800-GAMBLER or going online to KyGamblingHelp. org.