AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- Ohioans with gambling problems are reaching out for help in greater numbers in the state where three casinos and one racino opened this year.
Phone calls to the state's gambling help line are increasing, and more people are signing up for a voluntary program that bars them from entering a casino, the Akron Beacon Journal (http://bit.ly/TWTC73) reported.
The Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline received 2,576 calls in the last fiscal year that ended in June, and more than 1,389 calls were received in the first four months of the current fiscal year, according to the newspaper.
The responsible-gambling program coordinator for the Ohio Casino Control Commission attributed that rise to a couple of factors.
More gambling options are now available in Ohio, and the help line number has been publicized more, according to commission coordinator Laura Clemens. She says the reasons people are seeking help also are changing.
The 31.4 percent of callers who had cited lottery games when they mentioned their gambling problem has fallen to 9.4 percent so far this fiscal year, and 20.5 percent now are reporting problems with slot machines and casino table games. That's up from 17.1 percent.
The commission also says that 163 people are participating in the "Voluntary Exclusion" program that began this year.
"We're doing really well," Clemens said about the number. "We're averaging about 25 a month."
People who know they have a problem apply through the commission to be banned from the casinos for one year, five years or life. So far, 72 have applied for the lifetime ban and 37 sought the five-year ban. A total of 54 asked for the one-year ban.
Of those in the program, 118 are men and 45 are women.
The first participant in Ohio was Justin Gale, of Mayfield Heights. The 52-year-old compulsive gambler has started a personal effort to promote the voluntary program.
On Wednesday, he stood for hours on Cleveland's Public Square across the street from Horseshoe Casino Cleveland. Gale wore a T-shirt that read "I quit betting. Ask me how."
Gale didn't approach others, but answered any questions. He also handed out a business card with the gambling help line number and the words "From Justin Gale, first excluded gambler in Ohio via the VEP program."
"I'm going to be a walking advertisement," he said. "If people want to talk to me and tell me their life's story, that's fine. If they just want a card, that's fine."
Gale says he isn't opposed to casinos in Ohio and approves of people gambling responsibly. But he plans to spend 10 to 15 hours a week outside the casino.
He said he hasn't gambled in more than 700 days, but "every day is still a struggle."
The casinos in Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo and Scioto Downs racino in Columbus have been major attractions. A total of $392 million was gambled on slots and $86 million at table games in October. A total of $131 million was gambled on the slots-like video lottery terminals at Scioto Downs
Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, http://www.ohio.com