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Gambling problems growing in Western New York

Last month, the University at Buffalo held what was touted in the student newspaper as its first annual Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament.

You could almost feel the staff at the Gambling Recovery Program at Jewish Family Services cringe through the phone lines when told about the event. The growing popularity of poker is just one more trend helping to increase the number of people calling the agency for help with gambling problems.

“The biggest selling Christmas present was Texas Hold ‘Em chips – no matter where you went, you could buy them,” says Marlene Schillinger, executive director of Jewish Family Services, which runs Western New York’s only gambling addiction program.

In the last two years, the agency has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of people calling for help with compulsive or problem gambling. Meanwhile, funding has remained at about $140,000 from the State Office of Mental Health, which funds eight agencies statewide from a $1.5 million pool that comes from the New York State Lottery.

“That’s part of the challenge. We’ve gotten the same funding from the state now for the last six to seven years,” Schillinger says. “We’ve had the fastest growing gambling outlets and we haven’t received any formal increase.”

More opportunities for gambling

The increase in clients can be partly attributed to the continued expansion of gambling facilities since 2002: the opening of the Seneca Niagara Casino, Seneca Allegany Casino, Fairgrounds Gaming at Hamburg and the expansion of Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, Ont. Other contributing effects include poker’s emergence as an activity for all ages, the increase in daily lotto draws from once to twice per day and video lotto game winners every four minutes instead of five. Add to that the number of nonprofits, churches and schools utilizing charity auctions and …