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Illinois Council on Problem Gambling | A Resource for Education & Awareness*

Gambling in Illinois continues to grow! More casinos are being built, video gaming terminals seem to be available on every corner and legalized sports betting is available through mobile devices. What can we do to better equip mental health professionals to recognize and respond to individuals that are experiencing problems related to gambling?  Bill Johnson, the Executive Director of the Illinois Council on Problem Gambling (ICPG) joins the show to discuss how ICPG plays a role in educating counseling professionals across the state AND how the ICPG is uniquely positioned to increase the public’s awareness of problem gambling.

*This episode discusses the link between Gambling Disorder and increased risks of suicide.  If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide or self-harm, immediately call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Call Gateway Foundation: 855-723-0963

Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER

Transcript:

WAGER DANGER EPISODE 3: ILLINOIS COUNCIL ON PROBLEM GAMBLING – A RESOURCE FOR EDUCATION AND AWARENESS

Host: Shane Cook

You. Welcome to Wager Danger, a podcast where we discuss the dangers of problem gambling. I’m your host, Shane Cook, gambling disorder program director at Gateway Foundation. Gateway is a national nonprofit that provides substance use and gambling disorder treatment through its 16 centers located throughout the state of Illinois. It my guest on this episode is Bill Johnson. Bill is the executive director of the ICPG, also known as the Illinois Council on Problem Gambling. Bill and I discuss the role ICPG plays in keeping pace with the continued expansion of Illinois gambling by focusing on education, awareness and outreach. Shame and guilt play an enormous role in the experience of problem gamblers. So we talk about how those feelings of helplessness can lead to an increased risk of suicide and more importantly, what to do when that happens. 

Last, we’re going to talk about self-exclusion from gambling and a statewide effort to educate employees about how to handle problem gamblers in venues where video gaming terminals are present. Welcome to the show, Bill. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Thanks, Shane. Nice to be here. I appreciate the invitation. 

Host: Shane Cook

Yeah. We’re fortunate to have you join us today. I’m curious to hear from your perspective or hear from you. Not necessarily from your perspective because you’ve lived your life right, so it’s got to be from your perspective. But tell me how you got involved with ICPG. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Well, in 2011 I was employed in Springfield, as in another position, and when I left there, the only console problem gambling lost their administrator. And they asked me if I would help them out for a while. And I said I’d be glad to do that because they needed some administrative help. Not necessarily they didn’t need my help with the problem gambling. So I offered to do that. And that was in 2011 and I’m still helping them out. 

Host: Shane Cook

So that’s how I got a temporary position turned into at least a decade’s worth of activity here. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

It did. It’s been very enjoyable and educational and I’ve been part of this gambling console. You’re in a great transition for the issue of gaming gambling in our state. It’s expanded tremendously in those eleven years. 

Host: Shane Cook

Yeah, it certainly has. Especially it just seems like it’s continuing to accelerate, especially with the recent addition of online sports gambling and the impact that’s had in a very short period of time. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Jane, if I could just say one more thing. The only council has a policy that we aren’t pro or con on gambling and gaming, that we’re here to help people that may have a problem with gambling or gaming. 

Host: Shane Cook

Yeah, and I think that’s fair to say. I think a lot of providers have a very similar approach to it as well. I heard Dan Trolero, who I believe you’re familiar with, he’s with Epic Risk Management and leads an education program for them. He said it really well in a presentation. I heard him during last month’s problem. Gambling Awareness Month. He said I’m not against gambling. I’m against gambling for me. And now Dan is recovering from problem gambling. He has lived experience in this area, so I think that’s a very powerful statement to come from him to characterize it that way. But I think most people take somewhat of a neutral position on gambling itself. 

But when it does become an issue for individuals, we want to make sure that people are there and ready to assist and ready to help them maneuver through that issue that they’re experiencing. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

I think that the prevalent study that just recently was published in the State of Illinois showed that the majority of the people that were surveyed and the citizens of the state are not against gambling and don’t see it as a problem. 

Host: Shane Cook

That’s interesting. I want touch on that a little bit more because I know that study is relatively new and is due to be published to a broader audience here in fairly short order, and I believe you have some inside information on that, and to the extent that you can share some of that would be interesting. So just in general, and close off our initial conversation here about how you got to ICPG, can you walk us through a little bit? You’ve been there for almost twelve years now, or coming up on twelve years, and what’s been the significant change that you’ve noticed? 

Not so much in terms of how Illinois has embraced gambling and how there’s many outlets for gambling, but how has the response from providers, from organizations that deal with this topic, how has that increased and in your opinion, has kept pace with the velocity that gambling has experienced within the state? 

Guest: Bill Johnson

That’s a good question. I think that how it’s changed, as I’ve seen it, is that the different varieties of gaming and gambling that have been so prevalent that we’ve exposed more people to the issue, as I said earlier, to gaming and gambling. And thus more people would be prone, perhaps, if they had a predisposition to having some issues with that have showed up in our system. And I think that the other thing that’s changed since I’ve been here is that the Illinois Department of Human Services Substance Use Prevention Recovery Division has expanded the opportunities for people to get help and funded different agencies around our state. Initially, when we started this process back in 2011, we had very few providers, there was no money, to mention a small pool of money. 

I think we started out at about $900,000, and it wasn’t a lot for a state the size of Illinois. And as the opportunities and the new purveyors of gambling have come on board and come online in the state of Illinois, we’ve seen the department expand that around the state. I think we have now about 35 funded providers around the state of Illinois, which covers pretty much the entire state and gives people, wherever they live, a person or a contact somewhere within a few miles of their homes where they can seek help. And also we’re doing a lot of telehealth where people can call in. Now if they’re in an isolated community down in southern Illinois or anywhere in Illinois, they can call in and sometimes access help for their gambling problem. 

Them or their family can call in and it gives them the opportunity to get help wherever. And I know that there’s some grants out there right now looking for new providers. I think what we’re going to see hopefully this next fiscal year is an expansion more from the 38. Hopefully the division expands because we can have the best treatment continuum in the world. And if people don’t know about it, guess what? It’s all for. Not the great job that for example, Gateway does, they have all these locations, but if people don’t know they can get help for their gambling problem at those locations, then we miss the point. And that’s kind of where we come into the picture. Shane, is that what we’ve seen is in 2011 were entirely funded and supported by no grants. We had no grants from the state. 

We got all of our money from self-exclusion and membership, et cetera. And that’s kind of another piece that we’ve seen evolved over the years is that the Department of Human Services substance Use Prevention and Recovery two years ago allowed us into the opportunity to fund some of the services and the collaboration we do like we did with you. We did some ads, we did some spots, and we try to do that and offer that to all of the funded providers if they want to work with us. And they’ve all been very kind and willing to work with us. So that’s how it’s evolved from really on a shoestrings for 30 years with no constant. It’s hard to plan when you don’t know if you’re going to get $2,000 this year or $50,000 on self exclusion. 

So now that we have a funding base, we can start really implementing our strategic plan. 

Host: Shane Cook

And that’s fantastic because I know that the IDHS and the Division of Substance Use has been a real champion for providing funding for organizations across the state to help address this issue. And I know you’ve worked very closely with them to help ensure that the right providers are identified and that we do have good coverage across the state. So I appreciate the work that you’ve done together with the state to make sure we’re well covered there. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

That’s what we’re concerned with. We have no position on gaming, pro or con, but we do have a position about people that are affected by gaming and gambling and that is that they ought to be able to receive help on demand. I think D*** Durbin said once, he said, I have no problem with helping to balance the budget in Illinois with taxes on gambling and gaming, but that gives us a mandate to make sure that there’s a very good safety net there that people that have an issue with that are safe and can get some help that they need. And I’m kind of on that same thought. I think ICPG is we don’t have a position, but people that want help should be able to just say to Gateway or whoever the provider in their area, I need some help. 

They say, Come in, let’s talk. Not anything to block that because we certainly generate a lot of revenue with the taxes on gaming and gambling in this country and in our state. 

Host: Shane Cook

Yeah, indeed. And like we mentioned earlier, it’s only getting larger. More and more tax revenue is coming in. I look back at and I keep coming back to the sports gambling because I think it’s just so significant. The accessibility factor alone makes it so convenient for people to pick up the phone. They’re sitting on the couch, they don’t have to go anywhere, and they can place a bet on any sporting event, and it could be any sporting event worldwide, which means that’s twenty-four-seven that somebody can access it. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

I know that my father would not drive from where he lived to Peoria to gamble because he just wasn’t into that much. But he loved baseball. And I think if my father was sitting on a couch, he’s passed, God bless him. But if he was sitting on a couch and he loved the Chicago Cubs and they were playing, he might have been tempted to say, well, he never had a cell phone, so I’d have had to bet for him. But he would have been tempted to say, I think the Cubs are going to win this one. Let’s bet $10 on it. So then we have a person who wouldn’t drive 10 miles to gamble, but he would take that opportunity, perhaps. And I think that’s kind of something we’re seeing with sports gaming. 

Host: Shane Cook

Certainly, we’re going to have to keep our eye on it from a provider standpoint and really make efforts to reach out to people in the spaces where they are. And I think most of the providers across the state that I’ve talked to, that you’ve talked to, are geared up for that and are doing a really good job of getting the word out, doing some advertising here and there, whether it be during the broadcast of the game or immediately following and things like that. I agree we can take a little bit of comfort in that in terms of our ability to do the proper outreach. I’m curious, you’ve been involved with the Illinois Council. Are there similar councils that exist within other states? 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Well, there are 38 other state councils on problem gambling. Now, those are agencies we’re all part of the National Council on Problem Gambling, which is our national headquarters in Washington, DC. Keith White’s, the executive director of the National Council and all these affiliates, these 38 affiliates are associated with the National Council. There’s only one consul in each state, like in Illinois. The Illinois Council of Problem Gambling is the only statewide resource for education public awareness that’s affiliated with the National Council. So we are it here and the other 37 jurisdictions that have a council are similar. They’re an affiliate for the National Council. The National Council helps the affiliates with various things. They develop campaigns that are national, like Problem Gambling Awareness Month, Responsible Gaming Month, et cetera. And then they do a lot of the core work. 

And then we are eligible and able to pick that up and spread it out in Illinois and make sure our providers know about it and make sure that they’re a part of that national effort. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. So it’s a federated system, essentially. And it’s nice to have a national organization that has close ties with our legislators there in Washington DC. That can lean on them to secure some funding that then gets rolled out to each of the states as well. And it could be in the form of a particular campaign, it could be some education materials, et cetera. So that’s nice to be able to have. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

They have a lot of resources on their website, which is the National Council on Problemgambling.org. They have a number of different resources on their site for people, the general public, but especially for the affiliates to log into and take advantage of. 

Host: Shane Cook

You had mentioned as well one of the core activities that the Illinois Council provides is through is training. Can you talk a little bit more about what that training entails, what it looks like, how people access it? 

Guest: Bill Johnson

That’s another good question. Yeah. We again want to provide state-of-the-art, evidence-based research for all clinicians and counselors in the state of Illinois. Not just people who work with problem gamblers, but we want to make it accessible, cost-effective and easy to access for all mental health professionals, all marriage, family therapists, for all kinds of interested parties that do any kind of counseling for the public. So what we do is we’re fortunate to be funded by the Department of Human Services Substance Use Prevention Recovery Division and that we are able to offer training that are what subject matter experts in the area. And it seems like it’s kind of as, you know because Gateway does a lot of that. It’s kind of a moving target that things evolve and pop up that are hot topics. 

And so we try to get that out to the public and we do it at no fee since we’re such a large state. We do it virtually so that people, whether they’re down in Anna, Illinois or clear up in the Wisconsin border in northern Illinois, we can get together and do it a Zoom webinar or a Zoom training. And that’s been very popular. And the reason we do it that way is that we did a survey of our members and of the public and they said that’s how we would like to be able to access. This is mental health experts, this is LCSWs, everybody in the garment of provider. And we try to keep them current with what’s going on because again, that’s another thing that’s kind of changes quickly is the research. 

Now that we do have a little money in the mix, they’re doing more and more research and coming out with some ideas about how we can help people that have a problem. And again, I always try to do a training that when people are done with that training that they can leave there with some kind of a resource in their hands. They’ve got something that they can go back to their office. They know maybe how to even ask the question, which is a relatively new phenomena that if you go into any intake now we’re trying to make every place that an intake is done for some kind of clinician, counseling services that they do a screening for a gambling disorder. 

And there’s a number of them out there and I’m not going to try to talk about all of them now, but there’s some that are very simple two questions, right? And some of them are more in depth, but you don’t need to be a PhD to do those. It’s just a yes no. If they score this many, then they need to be referred on to someone that can help them with that because there’s a lot of shame and guilt with this. I’m kind of getting off the subject of your question, but there’s a lot of shame and guilt with this. So we want to help with that and we want to help improve the skills of all the counselors in the state to at least ask the question, have you ever spent more than you thought you should have today? 

Yes or no answer yes. Have you ever spent more than you thought you should in your lifetime? Yes or no? So I think that’s part of what the prevalent study is going to show too. Is that the push to standardize some kind of a brief intervention, a brief intake that everybody can use? 

Host: Shane Cook

Absolutely. I think it’s so important and it is something that we’ve implemented at Gateway. Every call that comes into our call center, every intake, whether if it’s Sud intake, they’re also getting the brief biosocial screening as part of that. And if it’s positive, then we go into a deeper assessment right there on the spot. So everybody that comes through our doors at least receives that well. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

And that’s what we want. We want all agencies, not just agencies that do gambling services and are funded for that, but we want every agency or every intake point in the state of Illinois to just ask that question. So that what we found historically is that some mental health professionals have said, oh, I’ve had this patient. They’re so difficult to work with, they never seem to get better. Have you ever asked them if they have they ever had a problem with camp? Oh, no, I never ask them that. But well, you might ask them that because what we found is some of those difficult patients that never seem to progress have an underlying issue with that, and they’re ashamed of it and they feel guilty about it, and they’ve lied about it so long. 

At once upon a time, one of the diagnostic criteria to be diagnosed as having a gambling disorder was, have you ever been arrested or committed a crime to further your addiction or your disorder? And that was one of the questions. And the criteria in DSM, fine, we’ve taken that question out. But people that are 100 or $200,000 in debt have spent all of their money from their college kids saving fund. They have started four or five different credit cards that their spouse knows nothing about. They have two or three home equity loans on their home that the spouse knows nothing about. And by the time we get around to that becoming an issue and they’re finding out about it, there’s so much shame and guilt. 

That’s why we have such a high incidence of people feeling hopeless and helpless and they don’t know how to talk about it. It’s overwhelming for them. They don’t know how to talk about it because they’ve been hiding it so long to get to that point. 

Host: Shane Cook

So that leads to gambling disorder tends to have the highest rate of suicide, correct? 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Correct. That’s everything I’ve read. There are a couple of research papers, some of them the National Council on Problem Gambling, says it’s the number one reason for suicide with people that have a condition, a disorder like that. And there’s some other research that has been done recently. And I don’t know that I can quote it for you now, but we know that to our helpline, that there’s a lot of calls of people that are very desperate. They see no way to salvage their life, and they see no way that they can salvage their financial situation. And it’s a unique situation if you think about it, that the answer to their disorder from their standpoint is that they don’t have enough money, that they’ve gotten themselves in debt. 

And the only way they see to get out of that, quote, debt is to gamble more and invest more money. And if I get a big win, then guess what? That’s the answer to my problem. And that’s the fantasy that they have. I’m going to get another credit card and charge another $20,000 in debt on that. And if I just hit that one big thing, I’m done. And we know who work in the profession know that’s part of the theme of their disorder that leads them to a situation that’s unattainable they can’t imagine. 

Host: Shane Cook

Personally. Yeah, it’s heartbreaking to come across individuals who have gotten to that level of despair. And it’s probably important that we mention at this point the suicide prevention hotline nationally, and that’s 1802 seven three talk. That’s 802 738255. It’s my understanding, too, that there the FCC has cleared the way for a three-digit number that is, if I understand correctly, is poised to be rolled out at some point this summer. And I believe the three-digit number is going to be nine-eight. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

I think that’s right. Let me say one more thing about this suicide. I had a call this week from a lady whose son-in-law and daughter-in-law are both successful pharmacists. They have a business, separate business that they have also that’s been very successful. She’s the mother-in-law. She said the gentleman the husband of her daughter. She talked about what a nice guy was and how cordial and how much she loved him, et cetera. But the daughter just found out that he had spent the entire savings that they had over their career on gambling and that he had refinanced the house and that she intercepted some mail and found all of that out in one day. And the mother-in-law was calling me to ask me what could be done with her son-in-law. 

She said, I love him, and this is her words to me, but he’s such a good man. I’m worried about him killing himself because of this, because they were in such a position. If you think about the wealth of ten years of successful business and two people who work in a profession, that’s pretty rewarding financially, and they had no money for food and no money for different things because he had put them in such a position, that’s just a dramatic story. Now, the little ones are the people that spend their entire paycheck and can’t pay the rent Friday because they stopped at a 711 and put their entire paycheck in that video gaming machine over in the corner. 

Just as dramatic and just as for me, just as heartbreaking as the person who had the opportunity to spend hundreds of thousands, as the person that can’t afford to spend $1,000 and their families suffer, which increases to what? Suicide rate increases, domestic violence, crimes of violence, COVID is making the opportunity for people to be more isolated and more incidents of that. It just is a tremendous cost in our society. And again, I’m so proud to be a part of the solution to that. 

Host: Shane Cook

Big issue and to have the impact that you all have across the state as well. You touch a lot of different people in terms of the programs that you provide and the education and the awareness. So a great deal of visibility from the organization. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Bill, thank you. That’s our goal. And we’re not in a position with gambling treatment unlike were with addictions with alcohol and drug treatment in the we’re new, we’re kind of struggling people. The agencies are getting up and running, but we have a good history with the other providing provision of services that we can kind of translate a lot of that over to the people with a gambling disorder. And I think probably working with people with a gambling disorder is one of the most challenging opportunities that any clinician is ever going to have, that they’re a handful. 

Host: Shane Cook

I agree, and just getting people in the door is one of the biggest challenges. It’s not easy to get people to admit that they need to seek help for a gambling disorder until they hit that moment of deep despair and by then it’s a totally different approach. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Yes, I agree, you need some skills to be able to navigate that as a clinician and that’s what we try to do. And again, I know you have high standards at Gateway for people and their training and ongoing is again not the case, unfortunately, and that’s where we kind of come in to collaborate to help them to be skillful and improve their skills to become competent in providing those services. 

Host: Shane Cook

Bill, you mentioned something earlier about a prevalence study and I’ve heard rumblings about this prevalence study in some of the meetings that I’ve attended and in various conversations, but I believe you may have a sneak peek at what this prevalence study is and what data it has provided. Are you in a position to share some of that? 

Guest: Bill Johnson

I don’t know that I have studied it enough to be able to quote it accurately, but it’s not a premature exposure. I had a meeting recently with the Problem Gambling Steering Committee from Supra and they rolled out the executive summary of that prevalence study. If you don’t have it, you will. When we get through talking today, I’ll send you a copy and you can look it over. But there is some interesting information in there and I don’t want to try to talk off my memory and I don’t have it before me here. And so what I’m going to say is that there’s a lot of information or the first prevalent study has been done in Illinois, I think, or study like this since the 90s, which is what, 35 years ago. 

And things have changed a lot like we talked about in the last ten years, let alone 35 years, and it’s going to give us a roadmap. And I’m comfortable that the Department of Human Services, substance Use Prevention, Recovery, people are going to put together a plan that’s going to guide us and they say it should be done every few years. We did the survey in such a time with COVID and all those restrictions that I think the information is interesting, but it might have been skewed a little because we had to do everything remotely right? 

Host: Shane Cook

Well, it’s hard for us to say at this point in time how much that period of COVID and isolation has impacted a lot of things. But I think slowly, as we go forward over the next several years, we’re going to start to look back and reflect and draw correlation between were all isolated for a year and a half, so things are different when we’re isolated, as opposed to being able to gather in groups. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

One of the recommendations from the study is that they do a periodic prevalence study and not just do one and then wait 30 more years and do another one. That’s pointless. How do we know what we’re doing is working? We don’t know until we develop the plan, implement it, and then follow up and say how the plan works. So I’m a big supporter of that, and I think that our Department of Human Services is also behind that idea that let’s do this scientifically and make it a public health model of providing these services. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. And it does provide an additional layer of legitimacy around why these programs are needed. Whenever we can take a moment and study some data from real people, that starts to indicate what trends we’re seeing within this space. So I’m anxious to see it. I know others are as well. And we’ll take it for what it is and we’ll work with what we’ve got at that point and look for periodic updates. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Well, anyone that’s listening to this podcast, the Department of Human Services Substance Use Prevention Recovery Division is having a Zoom presentation on the 12 May, and anyone that’s interested in joining that I don’t know that I can do it or can’t do it, but I would say to them call me if they’d like or send me an email at ICPG one@aol.com. I’ll give them the link. I’ll check with super to see if that’s allowed. And if they want to go in and listen, I think they’d be welcome. 

Host: Shane Cook

That sounds like a great event for the calendar that you all maintain it is. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

It’s out there, right? We do maintain a calendar, statewide calendar. Everybody that’s got a public event scheduled, we post it on our website and you can go to the ICPG Info website and click on Calendar. And there’s a statewide calendar that’ll tell you the date, where, when, what kind of event it is, and if you’re interested, you as a consumer can log in and go to it. You don’t have to be funded by Supra and you don’t have to be interested in the bigger picture. Maybe just that one event is something that you’re interested in. Or you can go to it, or you can log in and watch it, because a lot of them are offered either live or virtual or there’s a combination. They’re a hybrid where you can choose how you wish to participate. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. And I’ve noticed that we’re starting to see a few more in-person events that are popping up, which. Is great to see. I’m anxious to get back into that mode of meeting people face-to-face because it’s different, as you know. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

But again, that’s ideal for us too. But since we’re a statewide association, I have board members from the tip of Southern Illinois all the way up to the northwest suburbs. And so we continue to do virtual kinds of meetings because it’s a couple of things. It’s more cost-effective. It’s more convenient for my board members and our consumers and the people that the counselors than to spend a day away from their office and all the expense associated with it. And I think we accomplished some of the same things, but I miss that human touch too. I look forward to it again, too, when we can. 

Host: Shane Cook

I don’t think we’ll ever get away from the Zoom calls and the meetings way too convenient. But every now and then I think it makes a big difference to have a forum where people can come together and actually meet face-to-face and humanize each other. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Well, now we have podcasts like this one. It’s what a great thing to be able to talk about this. I’ve never been given this opportunity before to talk about all of the things we’re doing and to hopefully get that conversation out there so people can listen. And if they got questions, they can contact the only council on problem gambling if they’re interested in being involved. We have Gamblers Anonymous members that are part of our group and our advisory board, and everybody has an idea and has an input. If they live in the state of Illinois, we want to hear from them about the issue. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. It’s great for them. And Bill, I appreciate everything you do for the council. It brings up a topic that we didn’t touch on yet, which is the self-exclusion process. Now, as I understand the self-exclusion, if I’m an individual, I can go to a casino and register myself to be banned from gambling and winning or even banned from the location itself. So could you tell us a little bit more about that process? And is there any funding that’s tied to that process? I believe there is. I believe ICPG does receive some funding as a part of that process. How does that all work? 

Guest: Bill Johnson

We do well, thanks. That’s a good question too. Let me first say that self-exclusion, a good example would be again, I’ll use myself. I don’t have a gambling order. But if I was having an issue with going to the casinos and gambling more than I could afford to and losing more than I plan to, I could go and say to someone, I want to sign a paper that says I don’t want to come on here anymore. And if I do, I’ll be charged with, quote, the crime of trespassing. So they go in and they fill out the paperwork and they take their picture and they sign something that they understand. I understand that this is a lifetime exclusion, not just this week or next month, and I can get it back in a couple of days when I’m better financially. 

But you’re excluded for life. So if you’re caught in the casino or on the grounds of the casino, you’ll be charged with the crime of trespassing. Plus, if you would be able to sneak by the security at the casino, and since there’s 9000 people on the self-exclusion list around that number, that’s a round number, it’s not exact, then it’s hard for one person to be able to recognize 9000 people. And we don’t get a lot of people on that list that want to be then charged with a crime. But if they go to the casino, let’s say, and they gamble and they win a certain amount of money, you have to fill out a tax paper, right? You have to fill out a form that says, this is my ID, this is my Social Security, and this is et cetera. 

And that triggers, when they go to collect their winnings, that triggers a search that says, oh, you’re on the self-exclusion list, you cannot have those funds. So they confiscate the funds, they call security and they charge that person. It’s not unusual when I get a self-exclusion donation to ICPG, that the letter will say that the person abandoned the quote machine or abandoned their position and tried to get off the casino or out of the casino, and security got them and they were caught. In some jurisdictions, those people have to go take a class on problem gambling. On some jurisdictions, they have to go to court and deal with their crime. It’s kind of unusual. I’ve received donations, self-exclusion donations from a penny up to $40,000. This is over the years that I’ve been here, and all range in between. 

I think the trigger for the paperwork for tax purposes is one $200. So a lot of the self-exclusion money that I get, and this is a good thing, it’s really been way down. It’s been down this fiscal year. And I think part of that is COVID. I think part of that is fewer people. For a while, we had the casinos closed, we had them open 50%, and the security was able to check people as they came in. I know when they take that photo ID and lay it down on that scanner, on that security desk, we always think, well, what are they doing? Well, one of the things they’re doing, there’s some state police upstairs in an office, they’re looking at that scan to make sure if it’s someone that they might have on the wall. 

Because once your picture is taken, it’s exposed to all the casinos. And some of the casinos offer almost like a bounty, a reward. If you catch someone who’s on the self-exclusion list, and it’s not your job like you’re not security, then they get a bounty of like $500. So it’s beneficial not only for that person again to not be rewarded to say I won’t do it and then do it. And I think it’s beneficial. I think if a lot of the people who are on that list have a gambling disorder but they’re not crooks, they’re not criminals. And if they say for whatever reason, maybe the spouse, maybe the employer or maybe it’s self-motivation has that big stick and lever that says either you sign that up or there’s going to be some consequences. 

So they sign up aren’t going to violate that agreement that their conscience will say, I said I wouldn’t do this, so I’m not going to do it. There are a few that do it or others wouldn’t be any self-exclusion. But I think the majority of people that little impetus to say I won’t do it or I’m going to be charged with the crime, they don’t want to be criminals. They don’t want to do that. So they won’t go on the casino. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

That carries over to the other forms of gaming. 

Host: Shane Cook

I was going to ask that too. If the self-exclusion, it’s my understanding that it now is attached to or follows the person regardless of which venue or which platform the person may engage in gambling activity, at least in the state of Illinois. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

That’s correct. Well, if you self-exclude some of the casinos, some of the companies that own these casinos, if you self-exclude in Illinois, guess what? You go to Vegas and go to their venue and you gamble and you win, you don’t get your winnings. You’re on the self-exclusion period for that all of their properties. Okay. We’ve had incidents where people have thought they could go and I get calls often chain of people saying, well, I’ve decided I don’t have a problem anymore. I want to be able to go in a casino and gamble. And I was in Vegas and I found out, hey, I can’t go on their property because I want to get off. It’s not that easy. Once you say, I understand, it’s a lifetime ban, then you have some steps you have to go through. 

And the Illinois Gaming Board has on their website the steps that people have to go through and it’s relatively difficult. I’m a recovering addict with 43 years of continuous recovery from my addiction. Gambling wasn’t one of them. But I don’t know that I could find a competent clinician since I hadn’t had a drink for 43 years that would say to me, oh yeah, go ahead, you can drink now. It’s been 43 years, won’t be a problem. You know what I’m saying? It’s difficult to get a competent physician or clinician to say that, sign off on that. Yeah, there’s such a risk. 

And that’s one of the requirements for being reinstated or being taken off the self-exclusion list is that you get a competent clinician who’s certified and or licensed as a problem gambling counselor to give you a letter that says you no longer have a problem. They call me and say, where can I get that person? I go, I don’t know, sorry. And then when they find one of those people, the self-exclusion people at the Illinois Gaming Board check to make sure that the credentials of that person are such that they should be making those kinds of decisions. We have a good check and balance in Illinois. 

Host: Shane Cook

Yeah, I agree. It is. And I just think that topic is fascinating. Once somebody self-excludes, that self-exclusion trickles down, so to speak, to even the apps, the DraftKings, the online mobile sports books that people are joining, how does that come into play when somebody goes to sign up for DraftKings or FanDuel, for example? 

Guest: Bill Johnson

The way that I understand it happens is that they sign up to be self-excluded from the casinos and that carries over to the Illinois Gaming Board’s list of self-exclusions. So since the sports betting venues are also licensed by the Illinois Gaming Board, they have to agree that if someone who’s on the self-exclusion list tries to sign up for an account, guess what? They deny them the opportunity to sign up for that account. Now, we all think we’re a little slicker than the people who enforce these rules and we might want to think that, oh, I’m going to use Bob’s name or Jim’s name or my other friend’s name. 

Well, maybe my friends aren’t too anxious to let you do that because if you get a big win, what prevents you from collecting that in my name and Social Security number and then don’t pay the tax, if you understand what I’m saying. So that isn’t necessarily an easy fix for them because once they get their name on that self-exclusion list, they’re going to have difficulty. And the director of the self-exclusion list recently we chatted and he said how he gets calls a lot about people trying who are on the casino. They think they’re just on the casino list, but they go out and try to get on before they gamble and not get their winnings. They don’t even get to set up an account. 

Host: Shane Cook

Wow, I didn’t realize that it could prevent you from setting up the account. I figured you could go ahead and set up the account, but when it comes time to collecting your winnings, they’ll say, wait a minute, we’ve got this self-exclusion. I suspect that could be a failsafe, right. Or a safety net in the self-exclusion parameters. If somebody were to sign up and then try to collect, it would catch up with them at that point. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

The Illinois Lottery has a self-exclusion option that they say people can sign up for. We have calls to the hotline monthly, maybe some months, with twelve people who identify lottery, the lottery is their scratches or quick picks or whatever their choice is, but they identify that. So the lottery is cognizant of the issues and pays attention to it and makes sure that at their point of sale, there’s information about if you’ve got a problem, call this number. It’s pretty available. I know when I go, I don’t have a problem. My wife and I go out sometimes if we’re on the road, especially in Illinois and we’ve been somewhere, we might go and have dinner, a nice dinner at the casino because sometimes they’re pretty inexpensive and the quality is good. 

Host: Shane Cook

Right. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

I see signs when I walk in the door that says, if you got a problem, do this. If you get a problem, talk to someone. And I’ve done a little research, unofficially, I probably couldn’t get it published. I’m not a researcher, but said to people when I’ve gone in there, from the valet to the bus person in the restaurant, what would you do if I told you I just lost my house rent and I’m going to kill myself? And I have yet, I’m not saying there’s not the possibility that it couldn’t happen, but I’ve done it in a few casinos, and the person in the one casino pulled a card out and said, I would go get my supervisor right now. Are you thinking that? No, but they knew what to do. 

They knew that was something that they weren’t qualified to handle, but they might hear. I’ve talked to security. What would you do? Same answer, I would get a supervisor. The Illinois casino gaming association has done a nice job of making sure the employees on those casinos have some education about the issue and how to do non-intrusive kinds of work that you don’t want to jump up and yell, oh, Bill’s going to kill himself, somebody come and help us. But to be more subtle and say, I would call my supervisor and they would come and talk to you and take you to a private spot. Probably they even knew how it would happen. But that was reassuring for me. 

Host: Shane Cook

It is. And I’ve had some discussions with the casino compliance officers as well, and it’s comforting to know that there are a lot of providers across the state who have made a point to go out and meet these individuals, make sure they know who the agencies are within the state. If somebody does identify or present with a problem, they can get a referral. So I’m confident that everybody’s well versed on that in each of the casinos. So it’s comforting to hear you say that. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Nonetheless, we still have some work to do, right? We still have some work to do. For example, in casinos, it’s easy to have those captured employees, right? They’re all there. They’re in the casino, they sign up, they know what their job is. But if you stretch that out a little bit. I know that the Lottery does agent training where they educate the agent about some danger signs, but we’ve got this whole network of video gaming terminals in the state of Illinois that has employees there. That, in my opinion, probably needs some education about video gaming problems and how to be non-intrusive and how to get them from maybe crying about money they’ve lost or beating their head on the machine. 

How to be non-intrusive and get them from there to Gateway to talk with somebody or to at least offer them a map to say, here’s an agency locally that does this. Would you like to give them a call? Would you like water? Are you okay? Is there anything I could do? I’m not sure that all of those, let’s say 40,000 employees of these video gaming terminals know that today. And as you know, that’s one of my missions is to educate all 40,000 of them. 

Host: Shane Cook

Well, I know that’s one of your pet projects at the moment is developing some computer-based training for those employees that are overseeing or managing monitoring on-site for the video gaming terminal parlors. It could be the mom-and-pop restaurant. It could be the quick-stop down on the corner, each of which throughout the state of Illinois, is most likely to have a video gaming terminal. Because Illinois, if you think about all. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Of those people being changed with being educated, it’s not a license or certificate or a counseling license, but if you think about all of those I’m using round numbers again, 10,000 video gaming terminals. And each one, each station has three or four employees. You’re talking 30, 40,000 people. 30 or 40,000 frontline people that touch the gambler personally because those little places, they know him by name. Oh, George. How are you? Yeah, George put his paycheck in last week and couldn’t pay the rent. But to have those 40,000 frontline workers to be referral sources for Gateway, guess what? Bam. 

Host: Shane Cook

It’s a win referral for any treatment provider. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Yeah, and I just use Gateway because I know that they have sites all around the state, but any locale. And then I could do some geofencing and catch people in certain locations if I get them all signed up and get them a message about services that are available locally. 

Host: Shane Cook

That training is what I equate it to, is very similar to what servers and bartenders go through in restaurants. The ABC training, if you’ve ever done some of that service work, it’s more than likely that you’ve been through that training program to recognize the signs of someone who’s intoxicated what to do in that scenario, so on and so forth. So I think this is very important work that the council is doing. It’s a worthy endeavor to continue to pursue. So I applaud you and your team over there for at least broaching that topic and providing a pathway for that segment of the gaming population, or Purveyors, I should say the gaming Purveyors to really understand what to be on the lookout for. Because, as you said, they’re right there, and it’s likely they see the same people day in and day out. That’s fantastic. 

Bill, we’re running close to time here, and I want to wrap things up with you, but is there anything else from your perspective that you would like people to know about the Illinois Council on Problem Gambling? Something that we haven’t touched on or anything else to add? 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Well, the only thing I would close with is that if you got a problem, call 1800 Gambler five two, 4700. And that’s our hotline. Twenty-four-seven, all bilingual opportunities at that number. Some licensed experts in gambling disorders will answer the phone and have the list and access to the resources in the state of Illinois. And I would just say one other thing. Gamblers Anonymous is a great resource, too, that we haven’t talked much about, but I just want to give Ga a plug that they have a hotline and they have a number gamblersonomous.org, and there’s a resource there, too. So get help for yourself, and you can do it anonymously. You don’t have to tell them your name and location and all that, but call up and get some information anonymously and it might save your life. 

So that’s what we’re about. All right, but thank you for the opportunity to do this. It’s been my pleasure. I didn’t know we had so much to talk about. We probably could have done another hour. 

Host: Shane Cook

We probably could. I may have to invite you back, Bill, and we’ll just continue our conversation. There’s several things on my notes here that we didn’t get around to, so maybe a part two in our future, right? 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Very good. I don’t get invited back a lot, but I’m glad that you extended that. So thank you. 

Host: Shane Cook

Well, again, I really appreciate everything the Illinois Council on Problem Gambling does and the support you provide across the state. The education programming, the outreach that you do. It really makes us all better. It was a fantastic conversation. I look forward to our continuing discussions. 

Guest: Bill Johnson

Thank you. My pleasure. 

Host: Shane Cook

We love hearing from you, so please take a moment to, like, share and comment on our podcast. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter at recovergateway on LinkedIn at gatewayfoundation or through our website@gatewayfoundation.org. Wager Danger is supported through funding, in whole or in part through a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery. Recovery is a lifelong process. If you or a family member is struggling with a gambling problem, call Gateway at 844975 of 3663 and speak with one of our counselors for a free confidential assessment. We look forward to you joining us for our next episode.

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