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Wednesday, July 24, 2024


Aug. 6, 2003 — While many St. Croix residents struggle to make ends meet, many of these same residents stack up high debts in gambling. That's why the V.I. Casino Commission is worried, and this week encouraged gamblers to set personal limits when gambling.
The Commission, along with the national casino industry, designated this week "Responsible Gaming Week," and encouraged residents to keep gaming fun and entertaining by not betting what they cannot afford to lose.
That message is not getting through to residents because of a lack of funding for education, says Casino Control Commissioner Lloyd McAlpin.
"We used to meet every month," McAlpin says of the V.I. Alliance for Responsible Gaming, a group of local health care providers and people in the gaming industry. The group is supposed to be funded by a law passed in 1995, which mandates that 1 percent of the casino fund go to gambling and addiction programs, and 1 percent to the Village – V.I. Partners in Recovery. Despite more than $3 million deposited by Divi Carina Bay Resort in the fund, the V.I. Finance Department has not released one cent of the money. Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull was off island and not available for comment about how this money was spent.
"We need training for counselors, public service announcements, videos, and other educational programs," McAlpin said, "but we can't do that until we have some funding." Because of the failure of the Finance Department to release the money, the V.I. Alliance for Responsible Gaming has had to suspend its meetings and most of its planned programs. That concerns people who see problems resulting from out-of-control gambling, not only from casinos but also with the proliferation of lottery games and video lottery machines.
"I know that gambling existed long before the casino opened here, but we need to pay close attention to it, because it could lead to severe social problems for some families," McAlpin said. "One compulsive gambler in the territory is one too many."
The term "compulsive gambler" refers to those people who can't control their gambling habits, often compared to alcoholics. In fact, compulsive gambling is described as an addiction. A study by a University of Illinois economist estimated that over half of casino revenues come from active and compulsive gamblers. Most studies show that 2 to 5 percent of adult gamblers are compulsive gamblers.
Then there are problem gamblers – estimated at 11 million adults nationwide – who are at risk of becoming compulsive gamblers.
Compulsive gamblers not only lose their money, but often their jobs, their homes, and their relationships because of their addiction. Some compulsive gamblers commit crimes to support their gambling or pay off gambling-related debts. One study by the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago showed that in communities where casinos opened up the number of problem and compulsive gamblers doubled in numbers.
No studies have been developed in the territory showing the extent and consequences of compulsive and problem gambling, due in part to the lack of financial commitment from the government in addressing the problem. Of the 49 states that have legalized gambling, only two do not have any programs for compulsive gambling treatment and prevention. Most states have councils or associations set up to help problem gamblers, and provide education through 1-800 lines and access to counselors or therapists.
"That would be of tremendous assistance to people," said Dr. Barbara Carey, a certified addiction counselor at the Village in St. Croix who also teaches a summer class on addiction in Las Vegas. "It would allow us to do some marketing, create public education programs, and create awareness of the problem." But to date the Village has not seen any of that money mandated by law.
Carey said the Village has not seen anyone come forward seeking treatment for gambling, but she said part of the reason is due to lack of social awareness.
"Gambling is an addiction. And it will be awhile for people to look at the outcomes and problems that come with compulsive gambling. One of our patients who recently completed her recovery for substance abuse who thinks she's on her way to recovery, goes to the casino every day, and she doesn't see that that kind of behavior is the same – addictive behavior," Carey said. "Compulsive behavior is compulsive behavior – the same as drug use or alcoholism," she said.
Carey said she's heard of St. Croix residents who gamble excessively having trouble paying their bills and having difficulty at home, but most don't see it as a problem.
"It's just like the way alcoholism was seen here a few years ago," she said. "Since it was associated with a major industry in the Virgin Islands, and the social stigma behind it, it took a long time for families to refer people to treatment, and then it was often too late."
Anyone seeking confidential treatment for compulsive gambling can call the Village anonymously at 719-9900.

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