Last month’s opening of Baltimore’s new, splashy Horseshoe Casino has attracted droves of gamblers from around the state, the region and the nation hoping against all odds to strike pay dirt.

But, some organizations created to help those who abuse gambling focus much of their energy on the people who live within a 10-mile radius of the new casino to let them know help is available.

“We’ve seen a substantial increase in our help line calls…and the majority of the calls come from Baltimore City,” said Dr. Lori Rugle, program director of the University of  Maryland Problem Gambling Center of Excellence.

According to Rugle, “Only gamble what you can afford to lose,” is the theme of the public awareness campaign to combat problem gambling around the state, mandated and funded primarily through the original 2007 legislation that allowed Maryland residents to vote on the establishment of the state’s five original casinos.

This State, with its extensive legalized gambling, has an obligation to provide a program of treatment for problem gamblers,” is the language within the State Senate legislation that provides resources for gamblers who need help.

The legislation, which describes problem gambling as, “a serious social problem,” mandates the establishment of a center for compulsive gamblers, a network of services throughout the state, as well as money to fund the operation of public agencies and non-profit organizations to create inpatient and outpatient services for problem gamblers.

Dr. Rugle says the state also mandates the casinos themselves are charged with informing problem gamblers that help is available. “Every casino has to have a responsible gambling plan,” said Rugle. Those plans, which are approved and monitored by the Secretary of State, include training of casino staff, monitors with PSA’s (public service announcements) about problem gambling, brochures and signage throughout casinos.

“We (University of Maryland Problem Gambling Center for Excellence) are driving the capacity of Maryland agencies…who treat this as a mental health issue, advance the issue of problem gambling,” said Rugle. She says her group continues to gather data about who is being impacted by the casinos in positive ways and not so positive ways. But, she acknowledges it will take some time before a more complete picture of the impact of the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, but the outcome seems certain.

“Over the course of a year or two years we will see an increase in problem gambling.”

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor