Disempowered or oppressed individuals — many of whom may have never gambled before — could be most at risk to the pitfalls of legalised gambling, an international addiction expert has warned.
With Bermuda’s first casino expected to open in 2018, Deborah Haskins said that, based on her experience in other jurisdictions, the numbers of gamblers could spike because people see it as a new attraction.
The director of counselling programmes at Trinity Washington University noted that communities suffering trauma can present particular concerns, because gambling can give people “a sense of power and control”. According to Bermudian-based counsellor Roger Trott, until now the most drastic examples of problem-gambling has been middle-class families, who have run up debts of hundreds of thousands of dollars and lost jobs, homes and family inheritances.
Mr Trott said there were no gambling disorder treatment specialists on island but that a training programme was aiming to help treatment professionals become certified before a casino opens.
Dr Haskins, along with Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council of Problem Gambling, will be on-island for “Awareness of Gambling Addiction in the Faith Community” next week.
The public presentation on Monday, March 27, will serve as an information, training and accreditation event, which is supported by the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.
It is focused on the faith-based community, and aims to prepare leaders to recognise and help those who may present signs of problem gambling.
Bermuda’s history factors into the discussion, Dr Haskins said.
“In order to talk about wellness, we have to be able to talk openly and honestly about oppression,” she said.
“When we look at the history of African-descent communities who have been colonised — whether it’s through the slave trade, through the British colonisation, through whatever — there’s consistency in terms of oppression and the negative outcomes of oppression.
“If you don’t feel a sense of control in your life, and you don’t feel empowered, gambling provides this sense of power and control,” Dr Haskins said.
Gambling losses, she said, may not be fully appreciated as unique or new to people who have felt oppressed.
“For many people, when their life has already been about losses, they don’t often feel like this is the worst they’ve experienced.
“If they’ve already been in a struggle, then this is just another struggle.”
Mr Whyte said of the pending arrival of legalised gaming: “I think there’s certainly reason to be concerned.”
According to Mr Whyte, Bermuda’s “high level of religiosity, and a racial ethnic background” reminded him greatly of other regions in which he has worked previously.
“There’s some trauma there — the legacy of slavery and colonialism,” he said.
“Religiosity is obviously a protective factor. But the other two factors can be risk factors.”
International studies on gambling addition indicate that between 1 and 3 per cent of players will become addicted.
Dr Haskins said: “The reality is that not everybody participates in these research studies.
“And so a lot of times you have research that really is just portraying those people who are treatment seeking. Well, cultural communities don’t typically treatment seek.”
The numbers also tend to spike when gaming comes to a community because it’s a new attraction, she said.
“People who may have never gambled before — and this is what you may see in Bermuda — they’re going to be attracted and intrigued,” the doctor said.
Dr Haskins said she decided to focus her career on helping communities of colour understand mental health issues through the integration of spirituality and religion.
“Many of these cultural communities — that’s how we get well,” the doctor said.
“We don’t typically see a mental health counsellor.”
After the approval of gaming legislation last month, the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission said the island could have its first casino up and running by early 2018.
In a Senate debate this month, Senator Michael Fahy, the tourism minister, said the timeframe from the day that legislation was passed to the day the doors will open at Bermuda’s first gaming facility would be “one of the fastest in the world”.
Richard Schuetz, executive director of the Commission, said in a press release ahead of next week’s event: “We are committed to building a vibrant and robust programme for problem gambling and ensuring it’s properly in effect before the first casino doors open on the island.”
Mr Trott, clinical director at Pathways Bermuda, said: “To my knowledge there are no specialised gambling disorder treatment specialists on island.”
According to Mr Trott, this “challenge” is presently being addressed through implementation of a training programme to enable local treatment professionals to become certified “in sufficient time” for the opening of the first casino.
Pathways, he said, has been facilitating treatment for those presenting addict behaviour together with partners Carson Pennsylvania.
“We’ve had cases at Pathways where family inheritances have been used and jeopardised, jobs and homes have been lost,” he said.
“We’ve had cases where problem gamers’ debt has ballooned into hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Those examples, he said, had all occurred in middle-class families.
Mr Whyte said that, unlike the regulation of potentially addictive substances, the role of gambling as a revenue generator for government is unique.
“Most governments don’t legalise alcohol, or regulate alcohol, in a manner that is about profit,” he said.
“I think it’s to the credit of Bermuda that they’re trying to get out ahead of expansion and talk about responsible gaming. That’s important. There is already a level of risk on the island.”
Dr Haskins said: “We can’t just open up a gaming facility and think it’s not going to affect people. It’s going to be a game-changer.”
•To attend the event at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, call 400-2100 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday