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‘Problem Gambler’ Program Responds to Casino Closures

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s gambling addiction treatment group, 1-800-GAMBLER, is letting residents know that they are still offering help during the COVID-19 crisis.

The group, which notes that 1 in 50 West Virginians may have a gambling disorder, said now more than ever it is important for problem gamblers to know treatment is available.

The closure of all the state’s casinos and video lottery establishments and the cancellation of sporting events may mean that many types of gambling are unavailable, but this doesn’t mean people have stopped gambling, or that those with a gambling disorder are cured.

Jennifer Davis-Walton, the program’s director, says the abrupt closure of gambling facilities may send problem gamblers into a type of emotional withdrawal.

“Problem gamblers may be depressed, and they have a high rate of suicide,” she said. “They have often lost large sums of money, and they keep gambling in the hopes of recouping their losses. Although that rarely works, the hope of that win keeps them going. Now, some may feel all hope is lost.”

Davis-Walton shared her concern that people stuck at home all day, and already reeling from a job loss or financial distress, may fill their time with online gambling.

She noted that even though most sports competition has ceased, one popular betting site was allowing people to bet on various elements of the recent Democratic Presidential debate.

“People who are already in a vulnerable position may end up in an even worse situation,” she said.

The hotline and the online chat service, which can be accessed from 1800GAMBLER.net, will continue to operate throughout the COVID-19 crisis to offer support and treatment to problem gamblers.

Normally, helpline counselors refer callers for an in-person appointment with one of the network’s more than 60 counselors.

The network’s counselors, who are certified in gambling addiction treatment, are now available via telehealth or telephone.

There are also several online support groups specifically for problem gamblers.

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