By Charles Bassett, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- In Oklahoma there's plenty of money for one state program. A large chunk of the money to help problem gamblers is going unused. Yet, people who need help with gambling addiction are not seeking it. The primary reason they don't seek it is because they don't know the help is out there.
Now, the state is hoping to turn things around by using use some of that extra money.
Oklahoma has 110 casinos that attract tens of thousands of people every year, but many of the visitors can't control themselves.
"For whatever reasons, when they play, they find that it becomes an obsession that they're thinking about it all the time that there is a compulsion to continue to play even after it's cost them a great deal of money," David Swope said.
Swope and Rita Crockett work for A Chance for Change, one of a handful of agencies who receive state money to treat gambling addiction.
They've seen an increase in clients, but overall state funds are going unused.
"People don't know about it," Crockett said. "This is fairly new in Oklahoma and some people don't know yet they will benefit from services."
Money has been earmarked for gambling addiction only for the past two years.
The State Department of Mental Health gets $750,000 annually to treat gambling addiction. Last year, $470,000 went to help gambling addicts, leaving more than $280,000 leftover.
Wiley Harwell is contracted by the casinos so they can recognize gambling addiction, and get help for their customers.
"The casinos are in the business of responsible gaming, and therefore, those that have a problem with gambling, they want to get those people help," Harwell said.
But Oklahoma has not been aggressive in publicizing the fact that state money is available for addicts. Treatment can cost as little as $5 a session.
The state is now considering using that leftover money help get the word out about gambling addiction resources.
"Other states that have been in this business much longer than Oklahoma has have put up billboards, bus stop kinds of advertisements, and it has tripled their referrals to the referral helpline as well as to the certified programs," Harwell said.
The state money to help gambling addicts actually comes from the Lottery and the casinos.
If you have a problem with gambling addiction or know someone who does, there are agencies that can help:
A Chance to Change - "Opening the doors to recovery"
Oklahoma Association for Problem and Compulsive Gambling