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Too few colleges prioritize services for problem gambling

December 9, 2010
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Florida leader sees many efforts in prevention, but limited treatment options

It has been years since the poker craze grabbed hold of so many young people and led some down a path of problem gambling, but advocates for gambling addiction services say many college campuses still are largely ignoring an important opportunity to assist students who have developed problem or pathological gambling issues.

“We’ve seen a poor response from universities,” says Pat Fowler, executive director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling. “There is more prevention than treatment,” Fowler says, which means problems for students already engaging in problematic gambling behaviors because “a lot of these kids will go to campus resources to seek help.”

As gambling preferences among young people in recent years shifted from placing wagers with bookies to playing poker online, the Florida Council reached out to university officials in its backyard at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. That campus houses the REAL Project prevention and intervention initiative that Fowler says emphasizes peer advocacy to help students make informed decisions about their behaviors. The REAL Project and the Florida Council partnered to develop the organization Students Against Problem Gambling, which has furnished information tailored to particular subgroups of students such as student-athletes.

The Florida Council operates a statewide gambling helpline (888-236-4848 or 888-ADMITIT) that Fowler says informs much of its programming. The council’s Web site ( includes numerous resources for gambling prevention and intervention.

Fowler says a 2008 survey of more than 2,000 college students in Florida found that 2.5% met criteria for pathological gambling; an adult survey in the state several years earlier found a pathological gambling rate of only about 1% in the general population. Co-occurring substance use issues are common among problem and pathological gamblers, Fowler says, but gambling issues tend to get uncovered less frequently than substance use problems do. “Counselors aren’t looking for it when they look for risky behaviors,” Fowler says. “Also, people with gambling problems won’t pursue assistance as much. They don’t know what gambling addiction looks like, and their friends aren’t aware either.”

Fowler says the on-campus initiatives her organization promotes seek to offer information with a gentle approach that isn’t “in your face.” She says, “The message isn’t that you can’t gamble,” but that there are signs of problems to look out for, as well as tools for making healthy decisions.