Problem gambling is growing problem locally, statewide

By Deanne Mansveld March 12, 2010 02:04 pm

Gambling has become part of the Oregon landscape, culture and economy. Oregon has more forms of legalized gambling and offers easier access to gambling than most other states. This week has been proclaimed Oregon Problem Gambling Awareness Week, and our state joins a national campaign to promote the benefits of problem gambling prevention and treatment.

Problem gambling remains a hidden issue that can have devastating effects on individuals, families and the community. Some people become addicted to gambling in much the same way a person can become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Problem gamblers experience a complex array of mental health, social, financial and legal issues.

According to the most recent statistics on those who received problem gambling treatment in Oregon, 48 percent indicated suicidal thoughts, 34 percent alcohol-related problems and 15 percent drug-related problems. Fifty-four percent reported they either jeopardized or lost a significant relationship or job because of gambling. More than 35 percent committed illegal acts to obtain gambling money.

Data tells us that Union County is not immune to this problem.

According to Oregon Lottery statistics, Union County residents spent an average of $317 per person on Lottery games between July 2008 and June 2009. Of that total, an average of $215 was spent on video lottery games.

Thirty-one percent of Union County 11th-graders who took the Oregon Healthy Teen survey reported gambling in some form during the past year. The research also tells us that kids who gamble are twice as likely to engage in other risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking, getting into trouble at school, etc.

More than half of the Union County residents who sought treatment for problem gambling last year reported that video poker was their game of choice, followed by slots and cards.

Oregon’s award-winning prevention and treatment system is considered to be one of the best in the nation. Even though treatment for problem gambling is free, confidential and it works, many people don’t seek the help they need. Keith Walker, gambling addictions counselor at Grande Ronde Recovery, explained, “Although treatment can be accessed, it is incredibly under-utilized. In many cases, the outward evidence of a problem is hard to see. Individuals with a substance abuse addiction often ‘look’ like they have a problem, therefore can be motivated to treatment by others. The problem gambler is harder to recognize, and as such, is harder to get to treatment. Gamblers with problems, like any other form of abuser, certainly deny their malady as well.”

To learn more about problem gambling (signs and symptoms, types of help available, prevention information and more) go to In Union County, free treatment is available for gamblers and family members (family members can be seen with or without the gambler). For more information call Grande Ronde Recovery at 541-962-0162.

DeAnne Mansveld is the prevention program coordinator for the Center for Human Development Inc. in La Grande.