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Eastern students address problem gambling

By Caitlin Emma
On April 29, 2010

  • ECSU junior Amy Gorman collects signatures last week on a petition supporting a federal bill aiming to increase federal funding for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling. MARCEL DUFRESNE/The Daily Campus

When five social work students from Eastern Connecticut State University began an awareness campaign this spring about problem gambling, they soon learned that most students – themselves included – knew little about it.

"I used to think, ‘If you have a problem gambling, then that's your problem,'" said Amon Gitau, a junior and member of the college's Problem Gambling Awareness Task Group. "But I've learned so much."

The group is the first of its kind at ECSU that directly addresses problem gambling.
Both UConn and ECSU are an easy drive to the state's two large casinos. At UConn, services and programs have been slow to keep pace with the growth of gambling.

The students' work, part of a junior-year project, culminated in ECSU declaring April "Problem Gambling Awareness Month." Other events they organized were an awareness cookout, a panel discussion of recovering gamblers, a radio appearance and residence hall events.

The students are also gathering signatures on a petition supporting a bill to increase federal funding for the research, recognition and treatment of problem gambling.
Of all the activities, the panel featuring recovering gamblers who spoke about their addiction and recovery made the biggest impression on ESCU students, task force members said.

"Many students were shocked that it can cause so much damage," said Amy Gorman, a junior. "I'd never thought about gambling on a spectrum before. You can be a recreational gambler, but it can quickly develop into a problem or pathological gambler."
"It's a disease," Gitau said. "There's not a lot of resources out there, so it's not seen as a problem."

Gorman also said many students seemed surprised that activities such as birthday visits to the casino, scratch tickets and the lottery qualified as actual gambling.

"One of the reasons the group started is because college students are at such a high risk," she said. "Within 50 miles of a casino, you're more likely to develop a problem. We're a vulnerable population."

The task force has the support of ECSU's Office of Wellness Promotion, a grant from the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling and the guidance of Professor Thomas Broffman, an assistant professor of sociology and social work at ECSU.

Both Gorman and Gitau see the task force continuing in the hands of future social work students.

The bill students are supporting, called the Comprehensive Problem Gambling Act of 2009, would amend the Public Health Service Act to recognize problem and pathological gambling in national substance abuse and mental health resources. Amending the act would also create a national program to address the consequences of problem gambling.

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