March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling – headquartered in Sanford – is ready to help
Joe’s family had no idea they were on the verge of a second bankruptcy. He was gambling away half of his income, incurring debts of more than $40,000, and running out of options. Joe had already pawned almost all of his personal possessions. He didn’t know where to turn, but the help he needed was closer than he thought.
The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG) is based right here in Sanford, and although Joe’s name has been changed to protect his anonymity and confidentiality, he is a Florida resident, his story is true, and he is not alone. Joe is one of 181,000 adults in the state who can be diagnosed as a problem or pathological gambler.
The FCCG is currently marking its 30th anniversary aiding compulsive gamblers, and this is a very busy time of year for the organization. March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and the FCCG’s goal this month is to further increase the awareness of what is considered the hidden addiction.
“There is no roulette breath, no dice eyes, nor any outward appearance of gambling addiction,” says Jennifer Kruse, FCCG’s executive director. “It is hard to detect, but the impacts are great.”
Jennifer says that for every gambler, eight to 10 people are negatively affected, with the immediate family absorbing much of the suffering. Consequences can range from the loss of food and shelter to enduring legal and health issues.
The FCCG, a not-for-profit educational and advocacy organization, houses a staff of 13 full-time professionals and a bevy of volunteers who act in tandem as a statewide clearinghouse for information and referrals.
The FCCG’s flagship resource for combating the addiction is its single-purpose, 24-hour, seven day a week, 365 day per year problem gambling helpline – 888-ADMIT-IT – available. Callers are provided a multitude of services and options from financial and legal assistance to one-on-one counseling with mental-health professionals certified in treating compulsive gamblers. Gamblers can also converse with someone under recovery via the FCCG’s Peer-Connect Program.
For those seeking counseling, the FCCG’s Recovery Path Treatment Program provides low- to no-cost services to residents suffering from gambling-related troubles.
Adhering to the organization’s no-barriers policy, those looking for help can also text an FCCG specialist, receive information via social media, and access a wealth of knowledge on the GamblingHelp.org website, featuring live chat and assessment tools. Bilingual staff members are on hand for Spanish-speaking callers. A translation service handles all other languages.
Facts and Figures
The majority of calls to the FCCG helpline come from South Florida, where most of the state’s casinos and pari-mutuels are located. Of the 5,793 individuals who called 888-ADMIT-IT from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017, 53 percent were from South Florida. The stats should come as no surprise. The primary gambling problems statewide are slot machines (44%), card playing (30%), and the Florida Lottery (13%).
Which begs the question: With a lack of casinos in Central Florida, do we have a gambling problem locally? The answer, unfortunately, is yes.
“It’s not just casinos, it’s the accessibility to things like the lottery and gambling on smartphones,” says Jennifer. “That’s a casino in your back pocket, and Florida is a big gambling state.”
In fact, South Florida aside, the second most calls to the helpline come from residents of Central Florida, including Orange and Seminole counties. In Seminole, the major addiction is the Florida Lottery.
While studies show the majority of Florida’s residents have gambled at least once in their lifetime, most people do not become compulsive in their behavior. Only 2.1 percent of Floridians are problem gamblers, which is in line with the national average. Nonetheless, Jennifer says Florida’s at-risk population is higher than the national average at 4.7 percent – and on the rise. Over the past five years, calls to the FCCG for assistance have increased 46 percent.
Jennifer says compulsive gambling behavior does not discriminate by color, creed, nationality, or age. Even the young are susceptible. She warns parents to think twice before putting scratch-off cards in their child’s stocking or birthday cards.
“The earlier they are exposed to gambling, the more likely they may develop a problem,” Jennifer says.
The FCCG does not discriminate either, fostering preventive programs within schools, senior centers, and everywhere in between.
“We are not just operating a helpline,” says Jennifer. “It’s so much more than that. It’s prevention. Prevention is so much more cost-effective than picking up the pieces later.”
And what about Joe? Well, in his own words,“The helpline specialist I spoke to saved my life. It was hard for me to take that first step, but calling the FCCG was the best thing I ever did.”
In addition to a host of other programs and resources for problem or pathological gamblers, the FCCG operates 888-ADMIT-IT, a 24/7/365 helpline for anyone who may think they have a gambling problem.
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