UConn slow to respond to growing gambling culture
Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08
An 18-year-old UConn student drives to Mohegan Sun, one of the two large casinos within an hour of the campus. He carries a Sun "Club Card" and fake ID, which he knows will get him onto the gaming floor.
A 19-year-old UConn sophomore frequently enters online poker tournaments and wins big. He has made almost $175,000 gambling online in recent years, but has also had a single "downswing" of about $40,000.
Several UConn students gather for a weekly poker game in the study lounge of a residence hall. The game is just one of many scattered about the campus, with buy-ins ranging from $5 to $200.
These students, all of whom are male, offer a glimpse into what Barry Schreier, UConn's director of Counseling and Mental Health Services called "widespread" gambling at UConn that includes online poker and sports betting, and is magnified by the school's proximity to Connecticut's two casinos.
Despite this growing gambling culture, UConn has been slow to respond with policies or student outreach.
Along with increased gambling, university counselors are seeing more cases of gambling addiction in people being treated for other problems, said Schreier.
While the vast majority of gamblers are considered responsible, close to 5 percent are considered "problem gamblers," numerous studies have found. College students are considered twice as likely to engage in problem gambling as the general population.
Sometimes the figures are higher. A 2008 survey of 2,000 students at seven Florida colleges found nearly one in five could be categorized as "problem gamblers" or exhibiting problems stemming from gambling. The most recent study on college gambling in Connecticut in 2004 surveyed all four Connecticut State University campuses, and found 11.4 percent of students were either pathological or problem gamblers.
While other colleges in Connecticut and around the country conduct outreach programs and survey students to learn about attitudes and gambling practices, UConn officials don't have any research demonstrating gambling behaviors on the Storrs campus.
Additionally, UConn has no outreach programs or a policy in its student conduct code specific to gambling, and instead relies on the school's counseling center to offer services.
Referring to the student code, UConn spokesman Michael Kirk said the university cannot spell out every rule that students should adhere to. Students are expected to use "common sense" and obey all state and federal laws regarding gambling, he said. The only policy in place at the university prohibits UConn employees from gambling while on the clock.
Lt. Hans Rhynhart of the UConn Police said he cannot remember any investigations into gambling during his 10 years at UConn. If illegal gambling occurs, police would be notified about it through tips from faculty or students and initiate an investigation, Rhynhart said.
Addiction is hard to detect
Schreier said that while gambling on campus is prevalent, gambling addiction is harder to detect than other addictions, such as eating disorders or alcohol abuse.
"Of the addictions we know are on campus, this is one that doesn't come in the door very often," said Schreier. More often, gambling addiction emerges during the course of general treatment.
Experts say that a major problem is identifying addictive gambling behavior, which easily can go undetected by friends, faculty and the students themselves. This results in few students with potential problems coming forward to seek help.
Colleges around the country have begun to reach beyond the traditional counseling centers to educate students about the risks of problem gambling and are increasingly trying to connect potential problem gamblers to the proper help.
The Institute of Gambling Education Research at the University of Memphis, for example, combines research with rehabilitation in one facility, including the Gambling Lab, a research center designed to look and feel like a casino to recreate the stimuli that people experience.
In Connecticut, Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic uses a $1,500 grant from the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling (CCPG) for a variety of outreach programs on campus and has established a gambling awareness month. Sacred Heart University in Fairfield has used a CCPG grant to survey students' attitudes on gambling.
UConn is the only public state college not to seek a grant from the CCPG to do outreach focused on problem gambling, said Mary Drexler, CCPG assistant director.
The draw of casinos
UConn's lack of attention to gambling is amplified by the presence of the country's two largest casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, which counselors say have a unique effect on the campus.
Casino gambling is the most frequent form of gambling addiction seen by the UConn counseling center, Schreier said.
"I hear this from my colleagues at Eastern as well, that having the two largest casinos in the country in our backyard certainly impacts our campuses differently than folks where there are not a lot of casinos," he said.
Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are about 30 miles from the campus, and both can be reached in less than an hour.
The casinos are not only a draw for older students. Some underage students gamble at the casinos with little interference.
Justin Radano, a 21-year-old political science major, said he was able to procure a Club Card at Mohegan Sun at age 18 using a fake Wisconsin driver's license. It served as a free pass while he gambled underage for three years, never again asked for identification other than his Club Card.