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Does New York have a gambling problem? Survey hopes to find out

ALBANY – After two decades of widely expanded state-sanctioned gambling opportunities in New York, officials with the Cuomo administration now want to find out what kind of societal problems have been created by the gambling explosion.

The state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, known as OASAS, recently issued a request for bids for a statewide gambling prevalence survey of 5,000 adult New Yorkers that could shape where the state provides additional treatment for gambling addicts.

The move by OASAS comes three months after state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a sharply critical audit of the agency for having failed to conduct a survey of gambling problems in New York since 2006.

DiNapoli warned in February that while OASAS has expanded problem gambling services over the years, “it has not done enough to assess the impact of casinos on addiction or ensure enough treatment programs exist.’’

“The agency is taking steps to expand problem gambling services, but it has not done enough to assess the impact of casinos on addiction or ensured enough treatment programs exist," DiNapoli said in a statement at the time.

OASAS told DiNapoli that it agreed that a problem gambling study was needed and that it would launch such an effort when it had the funding to do so. The agency this week said the timing of the launch of a new statewide problem gambling survey was unrelated to DiNapoli’s concerns raised earlier this year.

While the new state budget adopted after DiNapoli’s audit contained no specific line item funding for a gambling study, agency officials now say they will be using existing funding to pay for a prevalence survey. The agency is not saying how much it might pay for the survey as it awaits bidders to submit their own financial estimates for the job.

Since the last statewide gambling study in 2006, which also looked at substance abuse problems, the state has sharply expanded the ways in which New Yorkers can gamble – including four new commercial casinos in upstate, new gambling halls downstate with thousands of slotlike gambling devices, new casinos in Western New York by the Seneca Nation and in central New York by the Oneida Nation, daily fantasy sports offerings and an array of expanded state lottery products.

In-person sports gambling is on the way sometime later this year at four upstate commercial casinos, as well as at Indian-owned facilities such as the Seneca Nation facilities in Western New York. Some lawmakers are also making a push before the 2019 session ends next month to legalize online sports wagering.

Bids for the gambling survey are due back to the agency on June 5. The group or firm selected will conduct surveys, in English and Spanish, of 5,000 adults broken down into specific regions of the state. Interviews will be conducted over five months beginning in January and a draft report on the findings is due in August 2020.

Though conducted differently, the new survey and the 2006 gambling prevalence study will be able to be compared, said agency officials, for any trends, such as geographic increases in reports of problem gambling.

The survey results will help shape future OASAS decisions where additional treatment services might be needed to where to increase community awareness programs about problem gambling warning signs.

The agency added that it has “greatly expanded” gambling treatment and prevention efforts, which includes additional training for private practitioners who treat people with gambling disorders as well as gambling treatment services as 12 OASAS-operated addiction treatment facilities across the state.

“Through this new gambling survey we will further enhance services across (New York State) to ensure a wider network of support for anyone experiencing issues with problem gambling,’’ OASAS said in a written statement.

A not-for-profit group that works to bolster public awareness about problem gambling issues and presses for more treatment dollars said the new OASAS gambling study is an important step. People in the treatment field for years have complained that Albany expanded state-sanctioned gambling without ever trying to learn if there were any societal impacts from the added betting opportunities.

“The household survey is a positive step towards assessing the prevalence of problem gambling as well as the impacts on health and wellness," said Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, which takes a neutral stance on gambling.

“The results will help to inform policymakers and OASAS as they take next steps towards addressing this important issue in New York State," Maney said.

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