MHAS Director Says Pandemic Didn't Slow Problem Gambling Efforts
Work to address problem gambling in Ohio continued despite the changes brought by the coronavirus pandemic, the Ohio Casino Control Commission was told Wednesday.
Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services Director Lori Criss provided the commission an update on the state's problem gambling work during the last year, saying much was changed because of COVID-19 while some things were not.
"The work necessary to benefit every Ohioan was in no way deferred," she said.
The department has steadily improved its approaches to preventing and addressing problem gambling in recent years, she said. That includes campaigns aimed to raise awareness and help people prepare to gamble responsibly, such as Get Set Before You Bet and Change The Game.
"We're using technology and really embracing technology and adapting to how that can be a benefit in our messaging," she said. "Also reaching those folks to help soften the stigma of problem gambling or increasing their ability to have insights about problem gambling as well."
More than 367,000 people visited the websites in the last year, more than double the prior year, she said.
"This is just a sign that we're making it normal," she said. "It's OK to talk about problem gambling, it's OK to seek help."
Director Criss also touted the move of the Ohio Problem Gambling Help Line into a 24/7 service and efforts to train more behavioral health professionals in how to address and prevent problem gambling.
OhioMHAS is planning for next year's conference on the issue to be an all-virtual event in February.
Looking to the future, the director said efforts to address problem gambling, particularly among young people, could become even more important, the director said.
"All of this work becomes even more important as we're looking at sports betting in Ohio and knowing that young adults are an audience that engages in that behavior," she said. "So knowing how we can prevent and really help prepare people for that environment is significant."
Financially, Director Criss said the state had built up a reserve from the 2% of the casino tax that goes toward problem gambling services.
"That prudent reserve that we've always kept has made sure there's been no disruption in services," she said.
Casino Control Commission Chairwoman June Taylor applauded the department's efforts to respond to the pandemic.
"What stood out for a lot of us is that you and your team have been very nimble given this environment that we're in now," she said.
Director Criss lauded the response of the behavioral health field.
"The providers we work with have been really creative and embraced technology so they can stay in touch with folks," she said.