NORWALK, Conn. – Amid talks of expanding gambling in Connecticut through a new casino and keno, Carlos Reinoso Jr. of the Human Services Council in Norwalk is working to bring the issue of problem gambling to light.
Reinoso is director of the Mid-Fairfield Substance Abuse Coalition of the Human Services Council, which is a member of the Region 1 Gambling Awareness Team. It works closely with other providers in the region to address gambling addiction. The coalition serves residents of Norwalk, Westport, Weston and Wilton.
He previously spent seven years with the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, and last week presented at the Western Regional Conference on Problem Gambling Awareness in Seattle.
He and his colleague are working to address the problem of gambling addiction because it can lead to devastating consequences. Problem gamblers can blow through their life savings or their kids’ college funds, and people who have never committed crimes in their lives often turn to larceny and embezzlement once they develop a gambling addiction, Reinoso said. The problem is not discussed as much as alcohol or drug addictions because it is more hidden.
“With substance abuse, you can see it in somebody’s physical shape, you can sometimes smell it. Friends and family members pick up on it more,” Reinoso said. “Problem gambling is more tied to finances. You hear somebody is having financial problems, but you don’t hear what the root of the financial problem is.”
Reinoso said that gambling addiction has the highest rate of suicide among all addictions. It also carries with it a high rate of divorce. Problem gamblers tend to chase their losses, feeling validated by small wins as they continue to spend more and more money at the tables, slots or on lottery tickets.
“They know they can win back their money because they won before,” Reinoso said. “It becomes a vicious cycle. And as they’re doing that, they can suffer from depression, anxiety and other disorders.”
Gambling addiction has a high impact on older adults, who tend to have more free time and see it as a recreational activity, on young adults who are introduced to gambling at a young age, and on people in recovery, who may substitute gambling for another addiction.
State legislators have had conversations with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes about opening another casino in the state, and have discussed introducing keno to the state lottery. Many legislators are concerned with the loss of state revenue that has been seen as neighboring states have opened their own casinos, taking business away from Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.
“It’s becoming a competitive market, and the thinking is that we have to keep our residents within our state borders and keep the money within our state,” Reinoso said. “Our concern as folks who work with addiction and mental health is the negative social impact to our residents.”
Reinoso said that mental health advocates and others who work with problem gamblers should have a seat at the table in those discussions so they can spread awareness about the problems of gambling.
The Region 1 Gambling Awareness Team will host a panel discussion on fantasy football and gambling addiction later this month at Norwalk City Hall. Reinoso said those with gambling problems should contact the Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-888-789-7777 or visit the CT Council on Problem Gambling’s website.
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