Sonja Mertz, MNAPG community educator, and volunteer Dennis Alfton prepare to welcome conference registrants.
Cara Macksoud, CEO of Money Habitudes, and Alex De Marco, founder and CEO of MoneyStack, discussed the financial challenges facing problem gamblers. This included bringing awareness of financial counseling resources and tools available to support clinical work with clients, as well as learning how to use an assessment tool to have better conversations about money with clients.
Susan Sheridan Tucker, executive director of MNAPG, welcomes Jeffrey Wasserman (left), judicial outreach and development director for the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, and Brian Hatch, peer recovery specialist for Bettor Choice. Jeffrey and Brian, cohosts of The Addicted Gambler’s Podcast, made a live recording of the podcast and touched on a wide range of problem gambling issues with an emphasis on lived experience.
Timothy Wong, MD, a professor of Psychiatry at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, gave two presentations. The first looked at cultural values of gambling among Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) that contribute to gambling and problem gambling. The second presentation examined how the rapid expansion of sports betting has and will impact a person’s mind, body and brain functioning.
MNAPG staff gathered at the end of the conference. From left to right:Vicki Stark, contract designer, Sonja Mertz, MNAPG community educator, Bill Stein, contract writer, Susan Sheridan-Tucker, MNAPG executive director, and Eboun Wilbourn, MNAPG operations manager.
If you missed the conference or would like to take another look at a presentation, visit mnapg.org/conference, where you’ll find recordings of most of the presentations.
Over the last six months, we contracted with Preston Spire’s public relations team, One Simple Plan, to increase the visibility of numerous issues pertaining to problem gambling. Since starting this effort, MNAPG has had two op-ed pieces published, one which is circulating among various statewide outlets. This is important, as we want to reach as many Minnesotans as possible. The first piece was published in the Star Tribune and the second in the Duluth News Tribune. MNAPG also received air time on local stations, with interviews on KTTC (Rochester), KARE11 (Twin Cities) and Fox News 9 (Twin Cities). Our media communications can be found at mnapg.org/news.
Working in conjunction with Preston Spire, MNAPG has created public service announcements (PSAs) that can be streamed wherever appropriate. We created a 30-second PSA and a 15-second PSA. Both can be viewed on MNAPG’s YouTube channel.
The goal of the PSAs is to communicate that gambling addiction is as real as any other addiction. The PSAs depict a young man “drinking,” “smoking” and “snorting” a deck of cards and closes with a reminder that there’s help for gambling addiction, that it works and that it’s free.
We plan to post this video frequently on our social media channels. In addition, the Star Tribune will use targeted emails and banner ads to help get these videos in front of the eyes of thousands of Minnesotans. We’d appreciate it if you would share the link mnapg.org/psa to your own networks.
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.
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 www.ncpgambling.org/programs-resources/ 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 (www.ncpgambling.org/ 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.
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.