Carol O’Hare has been executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling since 1996, and prior to that served as a problem gambling consultant for Harrah’s Entertainment. The council has played an important role in researching and helping those afflicted with problem gambling, despite having no direct regular funding from the state. A passionate advocate for responsible gaming, O’Hare spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros in the council offices in Las Vegas in May.
GGB: Nevada has had gambling longer than any other state in the country. Having been around that long, is there a payback in terms of knowledge and experience in problem gambling?
O’Hare: I guess there is and there isn’t. Gambling’s been legal in Nevada since the 1930s and the council didn’t come along until the 1980s, so after 50 years of experience with gambling, the last 30 we’ve been able to study some of the consequences of problem gambling.
How is the council funded?
I like to tell people that we’re a private nonprofit and we’re funded any way we can get it. We’re fortunate that we have support from several of the big gaming companies, who are corporate sponsors with an annual membership contribution. We also receive grant funding from the state of Nevada. We have fundraisers. We accept contributions, and we do generate some revenue from fees for services such as training.
What kinds of numbers are you dealing with in terms of the people you treat?
It depends upon how you find the numbers. The number of people who are accessing treatment is increasing as we make that more available.
We’ve been running the help line that is required to be displayed in all the locations in Nevada. What we see there, however, is a decrease in calls. But that’s true across the country.
How many people dial 1-800 numbers for help anymore?
We’re getting more people accessing our website for problem gambling information, and we’re not sure how many of them actually show up for meetings or even seek help.
A gambling court has now been set up in Las Vegas. What role does the council play in this court?
We’ve been advocates for the law that made this possible for a very long time, and now it’s finally become a reality. It took 10 years to get this up and operating.
When a crime is committed and that crime wouldn’t have happened in the absence of problem gambling, you need to get into treatment and not be subject to criminal penalties. It doesn’t mean you didn’t commit the crime or you don’t need to make restitution for the money that’s missing, but we know that these are folks that if we treat the addiction, there won’t be any repeat of that crime.
This is a huge opportunity for us to address something that could be life-altering. Our role is to be an information provider and to link up the offender with the help they need.
What advice would you give to states that are currently rushing to legalize sports betting, particularly mobile betting?
The advice I would give is not to the state but to the gaming industry itself. There are already 35 partnerships between major sports leagues and gaming companies. So I would advise the gaming companies to educate the sports fan. This is a new industry that knows nothing of problem gambling, an entire new employee base that may have been told nothing of problem gambling.
So my dream has been that those folks in the casino industry who have been faithful to responsible gaming will hold their partners to the same standards as they’ve held for all these years. And then exceed them because there’s going to have to be a new approach to this new industry.