March 1, 2013

Maine expands support for gamblers who can't stop

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Casinos are relatively new to Maine, but state officials are drawing attention to an issue that often goes hand-in-hand with the expansion of gaming opportunities: gambling addictions.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

That has led to a sharp increase in the number of people who gamble, Whyte said. In the 1970s, only about 60 percent of Americans said they had ever gambled. In more recent surveys, that number has risen to about 85 percent, he said.

Whyte said casinos will support efforts to deal with problem gambling. For those with a long-term view, that's good business, he said, because a sharp rise in problem gambling -- and related issues such as increased crime -- could lead states to limit any extension of gambling or even scale back what's already allowed.

Lesa Densmore, who will give the keynote address at next week's conference, said the expansion of gambling opportunities fed her addiction, which began in high school in Gardiner with bingo games.

It continued at the University of Maine, which she attended on an athletic scholarship, and really grew when she was in her mid-20s, when she started going to casinos and playing video poker, which she said is "video crack" for gambling addicts.

Densmore, who now lives in New York, speaks about gambling addiction and offers treatment programs. She said Thursday that she took steps to deal with the problem on her own, including signing up for "self-exclusion" programs to bar herself from casinos. That program is available at Maine's two casinos.

Densmore said she soon found herself driving farther, to casinos where she wasn't barred, until she checked into a residential treatment program that also addressed underlying emotional problems behind her addiction.

Densmore said she applauds Maine for holding a conference on problem gambling relatively soon after allowing casinos to open. She said a rise in gambling addiction is almost certain to accompany an increase in gambling opportunities.

"You're going to find more and more problems happen in the state of Maine," she said. "It's inevitable."

 

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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