By ROBERT CONNELLY
Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler saw firsthand the negative impact of gambling addiction.
He talked about a person who used to do work around his home and how he lent the person more and more money over a period of time to help him.
“The more I helped him, the bigger the problem he had,” Ditzler said.
State, local and racino officials gathered Monday at Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course to kick off Responsible Gaming Week.
The national campaign sponsored by the American Gaming Association, a national trade group representing the gaming industry, lasts through Friday.
Ditzler was joined on stage by Mike Galle, general manager of Hollywood Gaming, and local and state officials including Austintown Trustee Jim Davis; Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd; state Rep. Sean O’Brien of Bazetta, D-63rd; and Karen Russo, outreach and problem-gambling coordinator for the Ohio Lottery Commission.
The H Lounge was decorated for the news conference at the Austintown gaming facility with “Responsible Gaming” in balloon letters lining the lounge stage.
A mascot for the week, Officer Obvious, was featured in a video played during the news conference. It featured a person who used his paycheck on drinks, horse-racing bets and at the video lottery terminal machines and didn’t realize he had spent all of it.
“Now make the obvious decision and go get some help,” Officer Obvious said at the end of the video.
Schiavoni said people often forget about those issues with new facilities such as Hollywood Gaming, and “when gambling stops becoming fun ... oftentimes problems start to come for you and your family.”
Ohio Lottery Commission officials said there are about 250,000 at-risk gamblers in the state. Russo said “at risk” means those people “have the potential for becoming a problem gambler.”
In 2012, before the racinos began to open in the Buckeye State, there was a survey done by the OLC. It included nine questions “to see what level problem gambler they are,” and at-risk gamblers were explained as a precursor to gambling addicts. “We have not seen a spike” in problem gambling since the racinos opened, Russo said. There will be a second survey performed in 2017 that will provide “a better benchmark” because it’s “not fair to go off the phone calls” received at the OLC’s help line: 1-800-589-9966, Russo said.
As part of the five-day observance, Meridian Community Care hosted a booth in the H Lounge area with information about gambling addiction. It was there Monday and will be there from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and noon to 2 p.m. Friday.
Hollywood Gaming “does a good job at this facility of guiding people” to resources, and “we’ve gotten a good response from here and the community,” said Nikunj Patel, a licensed professional clinical counselor.