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What's on the other end of the gambling helpline number? - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

What's on the other end of the gambling helpline number?

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SHREVEPORT, La. -

The lights. the sounds, the thrill of the possible win.

"A few visits, here and there."

That was about eight years ago.'Christopher' began his relationship with local casinos by accompanying a friend.

"I would play five dollars, and then it was ten dollars, and then it was 20 dollars."

And it was enough to fuel what would eventually become a full-blown addiction to gambling.

"When I went through those first two paychecks of that job back in 2011, I was like, 'wow, I've got to do something.'"

Christopher is just one of the roughly six to nine million people nationwide who meet criteria for problem gambling, defined as the urge to gamble despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop.

Carol Bruno has spent the last year and a half answering the calls of people seeking help for problem gambling.

"I know exactly what they're going through," Bruno says.

It's been two and a half years since Bruno struggled with her own addiction to placing the bet.

Now, she's on the other end of the line at the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling in Shreveport, a non-profit that provides information, education and treatment services.

"I know the feelings, the emotions, the helplessness and the hopelessness. And it's important to me to be here to let them know that there is help and there is hope."

The problem gamblers helpline takes about 100,000 calls per year, and well over a million since the year 2000, from people in 19 different states, including Nevada.

Reece Middleton, Executive Director of the LACG, says not all of those calls are from compulsive gamblers.

But each call is treated just as critically as the last.

"The hand may hold a .357 Magnum. We don't know that and we can't tell."

Middleton says taxes from gaming revenue go into a problem and compulsive gambling fund, which is then dispensed to various parts of the state.

"In our case, we are a contractor with the state, and have the contract as sole source provider for the Problem Gamblers Helpline."

For fiscal year 2013, the helpline was allotted $430,700 and just over $1.2 million was set aside in the state budget for gambling treatment and prevention.

Part of that money goes to train specialists like Bruno, a training that involves much more than just a friendly 'hello.'

"When a Helpline Specialist picks up the phone, we want that first point of contact to be very comfortable and empathetic. Someone that a person feels that they can open up to," explains Robyn Filler, Helpline Operations Coordinator.

The helpline is strictly a referral service, guiding people in the right direction for resources that best fit the needs of the caller.

And sometimes that means talking a caller away from the edge.

"The likelihood of a problem gambler completing suicide is much higher than any other category, so for that reason, our Helpline Specialists have to be trained in suicide prevention," says George Sewell, Program Director at the Helpline.

Not so shocking when you consider that problem gambling costs families and communities about $7 billion a year.

Here in Shreveport, CORE - or Center of Recovery - provides treatment services to Louisiana residents free of charge, whether that's inpatient or outpatient.

Middleton says Louisiana actually leads the nation as a model for disordered gambling treatment.

"That's where they find what they need to find, which is the recovery that absolutely changes and remakes their lives and the lives of their families."

Lives like that of Christopher, who's been off the bet for a year now and taking it, as they say, one day at a time.

"I don't have to go and place a bet today. I don't have to go and place a bet for the rest of tonight and that's a pretty cool deal."

Disordered gambling, a relatively new term, is now listed with the American Psychiatric Association as a diagnosable medical addiction.

Middleton says that's only happened within the last six months.

Studies show that over 80% of adults have gambled in the past year and about 15% of those in the last week.

$95 billion in gaming revenue is generated by casinos, tracks, and state lotteries nationwide every year.

In Louisiana, that's just under $2.5 billion.

Nearly 64,000 people in Louisiana struggle with problem gambling.

About 10,000 of those are adolescents.

The Louisiana Gambler's Helpline number is 1-800-770-STOP (6867).

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