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Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
  • Problem gambling awareness takes center stage in Sumner County

  • Local governments have read proclamations, and agencies are starting new programs.
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  • It's the scratch of a ticket, drop of a coin, or roll of the dice – gambling takes on many forms. For some, what starts as occasional fun has the potential to turn into a constant problem.
    March 3 through March 9 is Problem Gambling (PG) Awareness week in Wellington and Sumner County. Two proclamations have been read, one by Wellington Mayor, Roger Stallbaumer, the other by the Sumner County Commissioners to mark the occasion.
    At Sumner Mental Health Center (SMHC), they are ready to launch a new program to help treat PG.
    According to the mental health center PG is a disruption in any major area of a person's life. That it is the urge to gamble, despite the harmful, negative consequences that are experienced.
    "It's what we call a co-occurring disorder, so a person may well be depressed or have a mental illness, so they go gamble," explained Greg Olson, Chief Executive Officer at SMHC. "It's the same thing as if you had depression and drank...you hardly ever find a singe diagnoses.
    During the Feb. 19 Wellington City Council meeting, Frances Walden, Problem Gaming Specialist for the South Central Area of Kansas was in attendance and spoke to the Council after the proclamation.
    "...For an estimated 75,000 Kansans, [gambling] will become a problem," Walden said. Walden added that her agency is also a part of a PG task force.
    "Our mission is to coordinate advocacy, education, prevention, and treatment for problem gambling in the community," she said. "Gambling addictions can affect anyone..."
    The Board of Sumner County Commissioners, Steve Warner, Jim Newell, and Cliff Bales endorsed awareness for PG during their meeting on Monday, Feb. 25. The SMHC and their recent efforts to help problem gamblers were acknowledged by both local governing bodies.
    "We have program that is about to be licensed by the State specifically for problem gambling," explained Olson. "It turns out it's very complex to get that done..." Olson expressed frustration towards the people in Topeka.
    "I'm pretty unhappy with the State, because they're saying they're not going to fund the program now," Olson said. "We have invested time, money, and energy- about 30,000 dollars in funds...getting this program available." Olson said that there was about nine million dollars slated for PG programs that have been repurpose by the State. But SMHC will still provide services as funding gets sorted out.
    "That's a problem that I've yet to solve..." Olson added. Walden touched on the issue of State funding at the City Council meeting as well.
    "Gambling doesn't just effect the gambler, it also effects their family members, their business, their employer," she told the council. "Increasing awareness, and insurance that problem gamblers...can receive no-cost treatment through the State of Kansas is essential to the health of your community."
    Page 2 of 2 - Not to be overlooked is the new, world class gaming facility in Sumner County – the Kansas Star Casino. Officials there say PG is an issue they are mindful of 365 days a year.
    "Problem gambling awareness is something we take very seriously," said Public Relations Manager at the Kansas Star Casino, Megan Strader. "Every team member on our staff, more than 900 people, receive yearly training on problem gambling awareness." They go over PG warning signs, and stay informed about resources for those who might be suffering from the disorder. A disorder that SHMC says is already here.
    Olson has been in touch with the director of the Dodge City mental health center about their PG program.
    "What he says is it's pretty quite the first year, then about a year out you really being to see the cases," Olson said. "We're probably picking them up earlier." Once the program is officially licensed, SMHC will hit the ground running.
    "The difference between us and other treaters, the few that there are, is most people coming in have multiple problems," Olson continued. "They'll have depression, anxiety, they may have a bi-polar disorder or some other addictive issue going on. We are fully licensed addiction, out-patient treatment facility, and a fully licensed mental health center...we do the complex cases." Sumner County's mental health center is one of the agencies the Kansas Star will be working with during PG awareness week.
    The casino provides a number to call on mostly all of their promotional documents with the words "Gambling Problem? Getting Help is your Best Bet." The number is 800-522-4700, with the website ksgamblinghelp.com for the Kansas Responsible Gaming Alliance.
    "If you go to that website, they have some quick things, like a 20 question quiz that people can take," Strader said. "They say if you answer 'yes' to more than eight of them, that you may have an issue with gambling." The website provides other tools and resources as well. There are also some specific things the casino will be doing for PG awareness next week.
    "A lot of the stuff we're going to be doing is kind of back-of-house stuff for team members, one thing all of our guests will see is we'll all have ribbons on marking the week and our participation," Strader said. There will also be brochures placed all around the casino in three difference languages that explain the signs of problem gambling as well as resources that people can use if they decide they want help. Strader says promoting responsible gaming is a year-long effort for the casino.
    "If you don't keep reminding yourself and refreshing it, you could forget it. That's not anything that we want."
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