NCPG to Introduce GRIT Act

NCPG to Introduce GRIT Act

Even as gambling — and gambling addiction — become normalized in the United States, no federal funds are currently set aside to address gambling treatment, prevention and research. This is in stark contrast to the considerable national funds dedicated to addressing alcohol and drug addiction.

However, with the expected introduction of the GRIT Act (Gambling addiction, Recovery, Investment and Treatment) by the National Council on Problem Gambling in the coming months, there is hope that gambling addiction will ultimately receive the attention and financial consideration it has long deserved.

The proposed legislation would set aside 50% of the federal sports excise tax revenue for gambling addiction treatment and research. Seventy-five percent of those funds would be distributed to states for gambling addiction prevention and treatment through the existing Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program. The remainder would go to the National Institute of Drug Abuse to fund grants for research into gambling addiction.

“It’s important to note that this legislation would not increase any taxes to Americans,” says Cole Wogoman, government relations manager for NCPG. “It simply sets aside an existing funding stream for problem gambling treatment and research that will continue to increase as online sports wagering becomes more prominent.”

NCPG plans to have the bill introduced to Congress in advance of NCPG Advocacy Day on July 26. “The legislation will provide language we can use to familiarize legislators with problem gambling issues and emphasize why a dedicated funding source is so important,” says Cole. Please see this page for more information about the GRIT Act.

Problem Gambling Advocacy Day 2023

Problem Gambling Advocacy Day 2023

The ability to create more visibility — and ultimately more funding for prevention, research and treatment — for gambling addiction depends substantially on grassroots efforts by problem gambling and responsible gambling advocates from across the country. To help “grease the skids” for these important advocacy efforts, NCPG will be holding its annual Problem Gambling Advocacy Day on July 26 in Washington, D.C., the day before NCPG’s annual conference.

Problem Gambling Advocacy Day brings together key stakeholders in a grassroots effort to highlight the importance of developing strong public policies relating to problem gambling and appropriating the necessary funding for education, research, treatment and prevention.

NCPG will make participation easy by pairing participants with fellow advocates from their state and scheduling appropriate congressional meetings. For interested Minnesotans, NCPG will work to set up meetings with Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, as well as your individual representative. NCPG will also train advocates prior to meetings to ensure they are prepared to make the most of their time with legislators. For more information, or to register for Problem Gambling Advocacy Day, visit advocacy/problem-gambling-advocacy-day

For those unable to attend the conference and participate in Problem Gambling Advocacy Day in person, NCPG will be hosting a webinar ( event/advanced-advocacy) on May 2 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to coach interested individuals on how to write an effective letter to their member of Congress. Whether planning to attend the webinar or not, to express your support for the GRIT Act (see article below) to your representative or senator directly, please visit their websites, which provide portals through which you can send a direct message.

A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table

Until recently, the Minnesota Suicide Prevention Taskforce, implemented in 2015 to address the steady increase in death by suicide in Minnesota, lacked representation from the gambling addiction field. But that changed in 2022, when Sonja Mertz, MNAPG community educator, joined the taskforce.

The 2015-2023 Minnesota State Suicide Prevention Plan was based on the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and the premise that suicides are preventable, mental illness is treatable and recovery is possible. While the plan aimed to be comprehensive in its public health approach of promoting health and wellness in our communities, the topic of gambling addiction and the high number of suicides by those suffering from gambling problems was not addressed or even mentioned.

The lack of inclusion of gambling in the suicide prevention plan seemed a glaring omission, and after discussion with Susan Sheridan Tucker, MNAPG executive director, and Kelly Felton, Minnesota suicide prevention coordinator, it was agreed that MNAPG would take a seat on the taskforce. The Minnesota Suicide Prevention Taskforce meets on a bimonthly basis and collaborates with the Department of Health to develop, implement and evaluate the state plan. At the February meeting, it was announced that the new 2023-2027 State Suicide Prevention Plan was finished and had been sent to the Commissioner of Health for a final signature.

Findings from both community engagement feedback, and mortality and morbidity data were used to identify and prioritize efforts for the new state plan. Priority populations for focus of suicide prevention efforts include youth (ages 10-24), LGBTQ+ communities, Black/African Americans, American Indians, middle-aged males, veterans and people with disabilities. As strategies are created and implemented, including those used by the Minnesota suicide prevention community grantees, MNAPG will work to ensure that language regarding gambling behavior, gambling risks and gambling addiction are considered and included.

Sonja is also a member of the Data Action Team whose purpose is to guide the implementation of the data-related goals and objectives of the state plan. This team analyzes current data sources, including suicide trends, mortality reports, student survey results and community data. Most recently, the committee looked at adult risk and protective factors and how those factors can assist in addressing the mental health needs of communities and populations. Sonja will continue to provide updates on how the topic of gambling addiction is being incorporated into data collection and analysis.

Cultural Communities Symposium on Problem Gambling and Mental Health

Cultural Communities Symposium on Problem Gambling and Mental Health

On March 25, approximately 50 people — representing the African American, Chinese, Hmong, Laotian, Nigerian and Vietnamese communities — gathered at Wilder Center Auditorium to learn about the impacts of problem gambling and mental health in their respective communities. The purpose of the program was to provide basic information about gambling addiction and its relationship to other addictions and mental health. Additionally, there was specific interest in how to start conversations about these issues across generations. Many of these communities have experienced historic trauma and challenges assimilating into Minnesota’s predominant white culture. Traditional talk therapy is not an easily acceptable model for care in communities that value their privacy.

The program opened with a presentation by Sam Vitiello, Director of Recovery Services, Wilder Community Mental Health & Wellness clinic. Sam engaged the group by explaining how brain development in youth and teens makes them particularly vulnerable to behaviors that could develop into addictions: gambling, gaming, vaping, drug and alcohol use. It’s critical to keep the lines of communication open between parents and children. Parents need to know the resources available to them to minimize harm and to understand why their children are experimenting with substances or spending too many hours gaming or gambling. While parents may decide to limit access, there may be underlying issues that need to be identified and addressed. Elders in the community expressed a need for scripts to help them initiate such conversations. Younger community members expressed frustration that it was often difficult to have open conversations with their elders.

The second part of the program included presentations from each of the groups receiving grants from the Department of Human Services (DHS) to expand problem gambling awareness. Asian Media Access, Lao Center of Minnesota, Neighborhood Youth Academy and Progressive Individual Resources all shared aspects of the work they have been conducting to increase their communities’ awareness. Each community received assistance from Russell Herder, a Minneapolis ad agency that also receives funding from DHS, to bring specific community messaging into visual works for websites, posters, flyers, etc. Each campaign consists of tailored elements which speak directly to each community. For example, Neighborhood Youth Academy works with young Black teen athletes. In addition to their focus on academic achievement, these teens are excellent athletes with goals to play Division 1 basketball. A two-minute video speaks of the importance of staying on track and avoiding the risks that could jeopardize their receiving scholarships in the future. The video also emphasizes the positive message to invest in oneself, to hone one’s skills and to stay away from gambling, as it can keep them from achieving their dreams.

The group also gathered for an open discussion in which attendees asked clarifying questions, expressed a desire to continue learning more and wanted to know how to obtain more tangible help, such as how to have a conversation about difficult topics like gambling and addiction.

Each community needs to drive the change they want to see. MNAPG will continue to be a resource and offer approaches to change, but the real work lies within each community to grow its awareness to this addiction. Stigma and privacy are significant issues that must be addressed. Creating new spaces and offering activities in which community members can gather for socializing will be important alternatives to having casinos as the only place to go. Changing attitudes and behaviors will be challenging.

Twentieth Anniversary of PGAM (Problem Gambling Awareness Month)

Twentieth Anniversary of PGAM (Problem Gambling Awareness Month)

This March marked the twentieth anniversary of PGAM. The month of March was intentionally chosen by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) to draw attention to the growing interest and participation in “the brackets,” the NCAA basketball championship tournament.

For many Americans, the annual tournament is a fun event involving officemates and friends choosing which teams will move forward in the competition. Many such pools don’t involve money, but only bragging rights for the winner. However, for others, it’s a much more serious and potentially harm-producing endeavor. Aided by easy accessibility of wagering on a phone, players could engage in in-play bets (that have nothing to do with the outcome of the game) in addition to picking winners. Some argue that placing a small wager on the games makes it more exciting. But for others who get swept up in the action and bet more than they can afford to lose, the experience of wagering can be devastating.

This year may may have been more damaging than previous years as none of the first-seed teams made it to the Final Four.

Some facts about March Madness (sources in parentheses):

º Over 80 million brackets are completed each year (American Gaming Association)
º An estimated $15.5 billion was wagered over the course of the tournament (American Gaming Association)
º Approximately 52% of wagers were placed online (American Gaming Association)
º Of those betting online, an estimated 75% were betting on the tournament for the first time (American Gaming Association)
º The odds of filling out a perfect bracket is one in 9.2 quintillion (NCAA)
º More than 62% of Americans either planned to place a wager or knew someone who did (American Gaming Association)

Concerns were raised over student athletes being harassed on social media by those who lost bets. This will need to be closely monitored in the months to come.


As the state affiliate to NCPG, we join forces in the national PGAM campaign to increase awareness about problem gambling throughout the state of Minnesota. Our activities actually start around the time of the Super Bowl and then roll into March, ending at the conclusion of the NCAA championship in early April. Our campaigns are displayed on our social medial platforms, included in our long-standing relationship with The Phoenix Spirit (recovery newspaper and website focusing on addiction, recovery, renewal and growth) and highlighted in various digital ads, targeted emails and paid articles with the Star Tribune. We also participate in several conferences throughout March by either providing resources or making presentations.

One of MNAPG’s presentations addressed Metro State’s Problem Gambling elective class, which, through the tenacity of counselor and associate professor Kevin Spading, has received recognition by the Department of Human Services as equivalent to the 60 hours of training required to become a problem gambling counselor. This enables all graduates of this LADC program who have taken this class to be immediately eligible to complete a contract to be a certified with Minnesota’s Department of Human Services, and thus offer free problem gambling services. As this is the only program of its kind in the state, MNAPG is hopeful this will lead to a new pipeline of problem gambling counselors, something which is greatly needed.

MNAPG also had the opportunity to address the Hazelden Betty Ford community regarding the high co-occurrence of gambling with other addictions and mental health issues. This was a new audience, with hundreds attending from across the country.

MNAPG relies on targeting three specific audiences in our PGAM campaigns: gamblers, a gambler’s concerned others and healthcare professionals. We emphasize the resources available for help and provide hope in our messaging that treatment works for gamblers and their families. For healthcare professionals, we stress the importance of screening for problem gambling and to make them aware of available resources.

Outreach Efforts  in Full Swing

Outreach Efforts in Full Swing

MNAPG’s outreach efforts continue in full swing. Sonja Mertz, our community educator, went through training to become a certified prevention professional. This will allow for access to prevention resources and continued involvement in prevention training.

The fall season was packed with conference and training opportunities. MNAPG hosted exhibit tables at a co-occurring disorder conference, the Addiction and Faith conference, Program Sharing conference (hosted by the Minnesota Prevention Resource Center), MARRCH (Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery and Chemical Health) conference, Minnesota Corrections Association conference in Nisswa, Evergreen Family Services conference in Bemidji, recovery seminar at Metro State University, National Alliance on Mental Illness conference, Allied Charities convention and the Association of Minnesota Counties conference.

Sonja also had the opportunity to provide presentations at the Evergreen Conference (family and youth services) and the Allied Charities Convention (charitable gambling managers). Both audiences seemed particularly interested in youth gambling and how gaming and sports betting are impacting the gambling behavior of young people.

If you’d like to have Sonja speak to a group about gambling addiction prevention, please call (612) 424-8595.

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