Aug. 22, 2002 – With gambling addiction an increasingly visible problem in the community since the Divi Carina Bay Casino opened its doors in March 2000, the V.I. Alliance for Responsible Gaming wants to help. However, a Casino Control Commission executive says the Finance Department hasn't released a penny of more than $3 million deposited by the Divi into the Casino Revenue Fund so the organization can establish a treatment program.
Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull didn't return a phone call requesting comment.
The Casino and Resort Control Act of 1995 mandates that 1 percent of Casino Revenue Fund revenues go to gambling addiction help programs and another 1 percent go to The Village-Virgin Islands Partners in Recovery for preventing and treating gambling addictions.
Shawna K. Richards, commission executive director, said that while the law doesn't state who gets the first 1 percent, the Alliance for Responsible Gaming is an appropriate organization to set up such a program. The alliance is a made up of representatives from the casino, lottery and horse racing industries, along with gaming regulators and mental health professionals.
"Although providing gambling education and treatment programs is not a mandated responsibility of the Casino Control Commission, we have taken a very aggressive role in spearheading the efforts of the alliance because we believe it is our responsibility to the Virgin Islands community," commissioner member Lloyd McAlpin said in a release.
Richards said the alliance would like to provide training for people who deal with gambling addictions and set up a 24-hour telephone hotline for people who need help. She did not have a cost figure for these programs.
McAlpin said access to the Casino Revenue Fund would enable the newly formed Gamblers Anonymous and The Village to help people who need it.
Despite the Casino and Resort Control Act provision, the Village also has not received any money, its executive director, Chainie Lang, said. "People will seek help if they know help is there, but we cannot do it without dollars," she said.
Both Lang and Richards were quick to point out that gambling addiction existed in the territory before the opening of the Divi casino, citing horse racing, dog fighting and cock fighting as examples.
A Gamblers Anonymous spokesperson, who by the nature of the organization must remain anonymous, said that across the United States, about 3 percent of the population is thought to be compulsive gamblers.
The person, a self-described gambler who "had gone beyond the means of using it as a form of entertainment," said a Gamblers Anonymous group started about six weeks ago on St. Croix. Attendance has been low, the person said, in part due to lack of publicity. "Compulsive gambling is a new subject" for St. Croix, the person said. "There hasn't been any type of awareness program."
Many people are not aware that compulsive gambling is a disease, the person said, adding, "People need to be educated." The person said a money-management program starting from the elementary school level could help prevent many individuals from becoming compulsive gamblers. They would learn to budget a set amount for entertainment, including gambling, and to stop when that money is spent.
Gamblers Anonymous follows a 12-step help program similar to those used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups. The spokesperson said the group doesn't need funding, since it is a self-help entity, but if treatment programs existed, its members could take advantage of them.
The organization meets at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays at Speak the Word Ministries in Peter's Rest. For more information about Gamblers Anonymous, Lang said, call the Village at 719-9800 or write to to the organization in care of The Village, PO Box 5105, Sunny Isle, St. Croix VI 00823.
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