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How the pandemic may contribute to problem gambling

'It’s similar to alcohol use disorder, except it involves gambling.'
Posted at 4:27 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 18:24:56-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Many families are now spending more time behind computer screens during this pandemic. Experts said that may lead to more individuals engaging in risky gambling behaviors.

Dr. Carolyn Hawley serves as president of the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling.

“They’re home, they’re alone, they’re bored — boredom increases gambling, which could also develop problems,” she explained.

The associate professor in the VCU College of Health Professionals said a recent study estimates that five to ten percent of Virginians are at risk of developing a gambling problem.

“It’s similar to alcohol use disorder, except it involves gambling,” Hawley said. “They have implications: social, financial, jobless as a result of the gambling.”

Often these players will go online to hit the jackpot.

“With the financial pressures, some people may have job losses, so that may trigger a relapse,” Hawley described.

In March, the number of calls to their problem gambling helpline surged.

“The largest form of gambling that people were reporting were actually skill based machines,” Hawley stated. “It may not be the MGM or the Rosie’s where they’re playing, but they are able to play in these other settings.”

CBS 6 found several players seated at the skill games located inside of a Chesterfield convenience store on Friday.

Queen of Virginia Skill & Entertainment Games is the company that makes the skill machines used in Virginia.

“Our skill games are only being offered for play in limited locations and we have put into place prescribed social distancing protocols to ensure player safety,” said Mike Barley, director of communications for the company. “A bill passed this week regarding the taxation and regulation of skill games includes the creation and funding of a problem gambling and support fund.”

On Wednesday, Virginia lawmakers voted to delay a ban on the machines for a year.

Governor Ralph Northam asked lawmakers to delay the ban saying the impact of the coronavirus on the economy requires a new approach.

Last month, Dr. Hawley’s council partnered with the Virginia Lottery on a PSA about problem gambling. March was also Problem Gambling Awareness Month

“Do you know the face of someone with a gambling problem?” an announcer asked in the video. “It looks like anyone.”

In the Lottery’s monthly report to Northam, it showed ticket sales in March down more than 20 percent from the previous year. March 2019 also saw record sales, the Lottery noted.

Hawley said there’s help a phone call away regardless of how you play.

“It’s free. We are operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and you can talk to a trained counselor who will help you,” she explained.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem call the Virginia Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-888-532-3500.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.