This coming Monday, April 27th, there will be an onslaught of bills around marijuana and gambling. Specifically, the Committee on Health and Human Services will see a full day of bills, many of which would further loosen Maine’s medical marijuana laws. Meanwhile, over at the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, there is a full slate of bills that would further expand gambling in Maine. So as the Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling and the volunteer Director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, I’m really wishing I had a cloning device right about now.
In the interest of not muddying the waters, I am publishing two blog posts on these bills. Yesterday, I focused on the medical marijuana bills. Today’s blog post is on the gambling bills.
Over at Veterans and Legal Affairs we have the list of bills that would expand gambling in Maine. As a rule, I am gambling neutral, neither for nor against gambling and the expansion of gambling services. That said, as someone with a mind for public health, and as someone who has worked in problem gambling prevention, I think we have a golden opportunity to raise more awareness of the risks posed to some by gambling.
Most people can gamble and not develop any problems whatsoever. They view the money they put into a night of gambling the same way someone looks at the money they use to purchase movie tickets. It’s entertainment. There is a small, but substantial portion of the population who will go on to develop a problem with gambling. Essentially, gambling becomes a problem when it gets in the way of your daily life. You are so pre-occupied you are less productive or skipping work. It causes harms to your physical health. It causes strains in relationships with friends and family. And of course for someone who develops a problem with gambling, it can be very destructive to personal and family finances.
The Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services has an excellent page on their website devoted to problem gambling. There they describe the data that shows about 3% of the population will develop an issue with gambling. There are also excellent resources for those who think they may have an issue with gambling and are seeking services. If you are looking for problem gambling services in your area, the best place to start is Maine 2-1-1.
As addictions go, in many ways problem gambling is one that is largely unrecognized and misunderstood both across the U.S. and right here in Maine. Raising awareness of problem gambling is one of the main missions of the newly reformed Maine Council on Problem Gambling. As we have this public discussion of if, how, and where we expand gambling in Maine, it is important we keep the addiction and public health aspect of gambling in the conversation. I am pleased to see a couple of the bills have made provisions for portions of gambling revenues go to the Gambling Addiction Prevention and Treatment fund. The next step is to allocate enough of these revenues to fund a full-time position at the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services