West Virginia Targets Problem Gambling With Panel, Awareness Campaign

Written By Marian Rosin on March 29, 2023 - Last Updated on March 30, 2023
West Virginia tackles gambling problem

After West Virginia was named the ninth most gambling-addicted state, officials decided to tackle the issue through a panel of experts and a campaign to raise awareness.

The Problem Gambling Help Network of West Virginia recently hosted a discussion in conjunction with March’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month. The annual campaign coincides by design with March Madness, when more than 50 million Americans wager billions of dollars on college basketball games.

Panel discusses services, resources available to problem gamblers in state

The Help Network’s panel discussion, “Mountain State Summit,” happened during its larger conference running from March 19-21. Topics included “Ethics in Gambling Treatment” and “The Role of Peers in Problem Gambling Treatment.”

PlayWV spoke with Sheila Moran, director of communications for First Choice Services, a nonprofit that operates WV’s gambling addiction services, including the Help Network. She said that on March 21 at the summit, panelists fielded questions from attendees who work in mental health and social services and have received training from the Help Network. Panelists also discussed harm reduction, responsible gambling measures, and prevention efforts.

The public was invited to participate as well.

West Virginia should have added resources when sports betting became legal, expert says

Panelists included Brianne Doura-Schawohl, whose boutique government relations firm specializes in international problem gambling and responsible gambling policy. She currently represents the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) as their state lobbyist. Also on hand was a lawyer who experienced firsthand the devastation of gambling addiction and who now acts as a peer counselor.

Acknowledging that West Virginia is one of the worst-performing states on the issue of gambling addiction, Doura-Schawohl attributed that to the failure of the Mountain State to increase gambling addiction prevention and treatment funding at the time of legalization. Neglecting to do so “leaves you in a position of greater vulnerability and needing to increase those services,” Doura-Schawohl said.

Doura-Schawohl agrees with the month’s message of hope and healing.

Currently, there exists a tremendous amount of shame and stigma associated with the disorder; the more we speak openly about this, the more we can encourage folks to come forward and receive the support they deserve. Recovery is possible. Treatment works. No one should be struggling alone.”

In addition to hosting the panel and as part of PGAM, the Help Network has also:

  • Offered weekly online training for clinicians.
  • Received recognition from the WV governor and the mayor of Charleston.
  • Launched a statewide advertising campaign, including TV ads, digital media, and billboards.

Wallet Hub: West Virginia the 9th most gambling-addicted state

The Mayo Clinic says that gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system, much like alcohol does. And like some other addictions, problem gambling shows up on a spectrum. About 1% of the US population meets the criteria for severe problem gambling. That’s over three million people. Another 4%-6% meet the criteria for mild or moderate problem gambling.

At the healthier end of the spectrum, you’ll find what Wallet Hub calls recreational or social gambling. This applies to people who only occasionally buy a lottery ticket or visit a casino and social gamblers can quit at any point and avoid catastrophic financial loss.

West Virginia, though, doesn’t come off too well when looking at the state’s gambling addiction numbers. Wallet Hub ranked West Virginia as the ninth most gambling-addicted state in its spring 2022 report. Metrics included individual gambling losses and the number of residents reporting problem gambling.

In Gov. Jim Justice’s proclamation of March as National Problem Gambling Awareness Month, he noted that “the prevalence of gambling addiction is 1 in 50 West Virginians.” He also called West Virginia’s problem gambling a public health issue.

State fails to meet minimum responsible gambling standards

It became more of an issue after the West Virginia Legislature passed interactive wagering into law in 2019, followed by initial iGaming operator West Virginia DraftKings’ launch here in 2020. In a recently released NCPG report, West Virginia was one of four states failing to meet the NCPG’s minimum Internet Responsible Gambling Standards.

Those standards include:

  • Player assistance
  • Self-exclusion
  • Informed decision-making
  • Advertising and promotion

West Virginia did get some good marks, including in the areas of:

  • Underage gambling measures
  • Enabling player timeouts

However, the report found that West Virginia doesn’t perform adequately when it comes to providing information about:

  • Gambling risks
  • Signs of a gambling problem
  • Limit setting
  • Myths about individual games

The NCPG report also found that while West Virginia has a policy commitment to responsible gambling, it lacks a clear-cut strategy.

The advent of online sports betting has made available help more crucial than ever. In 2021, online sports betting ranked as No. 2 on the Help Network’s list of types of gambling cited by helpline callers.

Moran told PlayWV that “with the widespread availability and advertising of online and mobile betting, we see a greater need for more funding, particularly for prevention efforts.”

She said she remains optimistic that the state will step up and increase funding soon.

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