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FALLS CREEK â Residents in rural Jefferson and Clearfield counties may be a two-hour drive from casinos in Pittsburgh and Salamanca, N.Y., but gambling is just as accessible with an Internet connection.
More than four years after casinos began operating in western Pennsylvania, the Clearfield-Jefferson Drug & Alcohol Commission is trying to address the needs of people in the two-county region, calling attention to potential gambling-addiction problems.
âWe donât have (a casino) in our backyard, but we have access to the Internet,â said Kelly Turner, deputy director for the Clearfield-Jefferson Drug and Alcohol Commission. âWhat are the concerns here for us, and what do we need to do to help our communities?â
This question, in response to gambling addiction, is a new one to Turner and her staff at the commission.
With drugs and alcohol as a main focus, the commission never addressed gambling beyond asking a few questions during case management.
âWe were asking questions and spotting behaviors, but now we have this money, so weâre able to do more,â Turner said.
The money the commission recently received comes from a small percentage of the revenue generated from patronsâ losses in Pennsylvaniaâs casinos.
In the current fiscal year, $6.4 million has been allocated to 37 county agencies, including 15 county or multi-county agencies in Western Pennsylvania.
The grant funds Clearfield-Jefferson Drug & Alcohol Commission received will be used to provide prevention services, said John Schuster, prevention program supervisor for the commission.
âWhat weâre really focusing on is providing prevention services by going out and educating the public,â he said. âItâs kind of new for us. Weâre trying to prevent compulsive gambling through awareness and education.â
According to Schuster, the commission is now able to provide programs for all age levels, including youth and senior citizens.
He said that although casinos are not located in the immediate area, Jefferson and Clearfield county residents are exposed to gambling through raffles, 50/50 drawings, bingo and fund-raisers. Children, in turn, are exposed to what their parents and other adults are taking part in.
Therefore, the Drug & Alcohol Commission is available to go into schools or other organizations to teach children what constitutes gambling.
âKids are influenced a lot by what their parents and other adults are doing,â Schuster said. âWeâre trying to provide information to them, such as, âWhat is gambling and whatâs the difference between gambling and just a regular board game?â And we try to explain what the risks of gambling are going to be.â
Schuster said what happens with gambling is the same as with other types of addiction.
âThe more theyâre exposed to it, the more excitement is generated, and chemical changes in the brain occur,â Schuster said. âThings can become a compulsion.â
Schuster said the commission has not yet seen a âbig needâ for gambling addiction treatment, so the commission is using its funds for prevention.
The commission is holding a Youth Gambling Awareness and Small Games of Chance and Rules and Regulation Seminar from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Beechwoods Golf Course Banquet Facility in Falls Creek.
Turner said the seminar is geared toward any organization that represents youth that may hold fund-raisers or 50/50 drawings.
âThis seminar will teach organizations what kids can and cannot do,â Turner said.
And although this is the first seminar of its kind of which the Drug & Alcohol Commission is holding, Turner and Schuster hope to have more in the future.
âThe more knowledge everyone can gain, the better,â Schuster said. âWe want to correct some of the false information people have about skills versus luck, odds, strategies and gambling superstitions.â
The commission also hopes to provide people with information so they can spot problem gambling, and to provide mini-grants to organizations in the two counties that are willing to promote gambling awareness, Turner added.
She said some of the signs of gambling addiction include:
â˘ Spending more time and money on gambling.
â˘ Using it as an escape.
â˘ Neglecting responsibilities.
â˘ Lying about gambling.
â˘ Experiencing highs and lows with regard to gambling.
For more information, or for those who need help with a gambling addiction, Turner said the commission will answer questions at its toll-free number at 800-892-9002.
People can also find help at the Pennsylvania Gambling Addiction 24-hour hotline, 1-877-656-2112 or at Gamblerâs Anonymous 1-888-424-3577.
In addition, the state sponsors a Web site, www.paproblemgambling.com, for those who might need help.
âThereâs a definite need,â Turner said. âWeâre exposed to (gambling), and there are now services in this area that were not here before.â