‘No shame in reaching out for help’: Pa. leaders share resources for gambling addicts

State officials offer avenues for healing on National Problem Gambling Awareness Month
Someone addicted to gambling.
Photo credit audioundwerbung/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

The Pennsylvania Lottery, Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the Council on Compulsive Gambling joined with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs in Harrisburg to help bring awareness for treatment options, and to remind people that it's OK to ask for help.

“Problem gamblers are not bad people trying to be good. They’re sick people trying to be well," said Robert Grove, who shared his story of gambling addiction. It’s been eight years since he reached out for help.

“I read on the website Pennsylvania offered, a statewide self-exclusion program which is different from a single property exclusion. It was on a Sunday afternoon that I signed out of all gaming establishments in Pennsylvania.”

He continued with a 12 step program and is officially in recovery.

According to a recent state survey, about one in 10 Pennsylvanians engage in online gambling, which was well underway in late 2018.

The most popular type of online gambling is sports betting. Additionally, interactive gaming was well underway by the fall of 2018 and grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost half who engage in on line gaming exhibit at least one problem gambling behavior.

“Most people who gamble are not going to develop a problem," said Josh Ercole, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania.

"The important piece to this is obviously trying to spread the message of assistance, of trying to make sure there is no stigma. There’s no shame in reaching out for help and asking for it.”

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith said addiction to legal activities is nothing new.

“Alcohol sales have been legal for a very long time, and we still treat and address prevention issues related to alcohol use," Smith said.

“We certainly want to allow Pennsylvanians to enjoy themselves doing the hobbies that they enjoy doing. For us, the really important part is making sure that were mitigating as many risks as possible.”

This year marks the 18th anniversary of National Problem Gambling Awareness Month. The 1-800-GAMBLER helpline, which has seen an uptick in calls during the pandemic, is available 24 hours a day.

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