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As state promotes more gambling, it OKs six centers for gambling addiction

ALBANY – As the state continues to promote and expand gambling, the Cuomo administration is making it easier for gambling addicts to get inpatient treatment care.

Six addiction treatment centers have been given approval to provide inpatient services for gambling addicts seeking help on their own or with the referral from a mental health professional or health insurer.

The program permits up to 30 days of residential treatment.

The 33-bed Margaret A. Stutzman Addiction Treatment Center in Buffalo is one of six facilities in the state. It offers a residential program for people with alcohol and drug addictions.

The new program is not adding new beds to the existing six centers across the state. Rather, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services recently granted waivers to the centers allowing them to admit patients whose primary diagnosis is gambling addiction.

“Problem gambling is an addiction, and it falls under the substance abuse services office. This is another service we’re trying to expand. With the new casinos coming on line, we want to make sure we’re prepared and ready to care for anyone who does have a gambling addiction problem,’’ said Susan Craig, a spokeswoman for the agency that provided the waivers for the inpatient gambling care.

Previously, gambling was considered a “secondary” diagnosis. That meant someone addicted to casino gambling, internet wagering, the state lottery or some other form of gambling had to be admitted for another “primary” addiction diagnoses, such as for drugs or alcohol.

The move comes as the state offers additional gambling opportunities. The first of four new commercial casinos opened last month at a harness racetrack in the Southern Tier west of Binghamton. Others are under construction in Seneca, Schenectady and Sullivan counties. The casino expansion effort was started in 2012 with a push from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The state also last year legalized wagering on daily fantasy sports contests. In the new legislative session, some lawmakers are eyeing the legalization of online poker gambling in the state.

The state is uncertain how many people might seek such intense treatment lasting up to 30 days. Officials said they are confident the existing number of treatment beds will handle the need, though noted if one center is filled it could mean, for instance, gambling addicts being referred from the Buffalo center to the next nearest one in Rochester. “This is for someone who really needs to get away and get that help,’’ Craig said of the intense treatment care.

Most gambling addicts, if they seek care, more frequently go to through private counseling, either with mental health professionals or Gambling Anonymous groups, or a combination of them.

Gambling addicts seeking the residential treatment care can go through the agency’s 24-hour hotline – (877) 8-HOPENY – or work with their insurance carrier or existing counselor to get a referral to one of the centers. But the state stressed the care will be provided no matter the ability to pay. “All comers are welcome,’’ Craig said.

The spokeswoman said the six centers qualified for the new program by adding staff or training existing staff in treating gambling addictions.

“These addiction treatment centers have the tools and resources necessary to provide quality care to those who need it,’’ said Robert Williams, executive director of the New York State Gaming Commission, which runs or regulates everything from the state lottery to casinos, horse racing and charitable gambling operations.

The state addiction services agency reported 229 people were admitted for outpatient gambling treatment addiction in 2016 at 17 government-funded facilities across the state. The agency also trained 500 private practitioners last year, including family therapists and social workers, on problem gambling treatment and identification.

Tens of millions of dollars are bet by New Yorkers each day. The 2013 legislation permitting the first round of four new commercial casinos requires operators to pay $500 annually per machine or table game; money from that fund is to be dedicated for problem gambling programs.

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