By Dick Uliano
From casinos to the recent advent of mobile sports betting, gambling has been growing in Maryland. As opportunities for betting grow, a new study finds that few are reaching out for help when it comes to dealing with gambling problems.
The amount of money gambled in Maryland has reached more than $4.5 billion a year.
The state has a Problem Gambling Fund that provides money for a network of treatment services, including a 24-hour hotline. But not many are calling.
A legislative study made public this month by the Maryland General Assembly indicates that there may be hundreds of thousands of Marylanders with a gambling problem, while just a few thousand have sought help from the state center that provides resources to those who need them.
“We really need to do a better job to reach out to Marylanders who may have this medical condition of problem gambling, and make sure that they’re linked to resources and are able to get treatment that they need,” said state Sen. Clarence Lam, whose district includes parts of Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
He added that the “tremendous gap when it comes to having an adequate number of providers of behavioral and mental health available to those who may seek treatment” has come to light while examining Maryland’s gamblers.
Evaluating the state’s Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, legislative researchers pointed to prevalence studies that show problem gambling may affect 5% of the nationwide population of eligible gamblers, but the number may be nearly 9% in Maryland.
“I think when we have a higher lifetime prevalence of suspected problem gamblers here in the state, it means that there is a red light that’s blinking, indicating that we may have a larger problem here in the state than others,” Lam said.
He said there is a need to do more outreach to those problem gamblers.
“We need to spend a little bit more out of our problem gambling fund to get to these individuals. And I think when you look at the amount that we spend per resident, we’re spending less than some other states, including less than the national recommended average for funding to get to these problem gambling individuals,” Lam said.
Lam, a medical doctor, said that problem gambling is a medical condition, just like addiction to alcohol or other substances; and it’s treatable.
The report recommends a better coordinated response to the growing issue of problem gambling. Besides identifying those who need help, the Department of Behavioral Health must have enough providers to ensure that those who are requesting help can access the resources they need.
Lam predicts that the proliferation of gaming in the state and the expansion of digital betting could add to the number of problem gamblers.
“More and more people will need help,” Lam said.
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