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Riverside Efforts To Fight Gambling Problems

May 25, 2010, 9:20 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Riverside Efforts To Fight Gambling Problems
IOWA CITY, IA - The biggest opposition to the Lyon County, Iowa casino has come from across the border. South Dakota video lottery casinos fear they will see a drop in revenue when the new $120 million casino is built  just ten miles from Sioux Falls. But, that's not the only worry a new casino brings.

A study in Iowa says the closer someone lives to a casino the more likely they are to have a gambling addiction.

 Right now Iowa has 16 casinos, it will soon have 17 when the Lyon County project is complete. Having all those casinos in the state is one reason counselors say 88 percent of Iowans have gambled, above the national rate of 80 percent of Americans who say they have gambled before.

"When casinos are placed, you're going to see an increase of gambling activity," Todd Morris with Mecca in Iowa City said.

A study done by the state of Iowa in 2005 shows that people who live within 50 miles of a casino are more likely to develop a gambling problem. It also showed that Iowa counties with a casino had more bankruptcies. And, counselors say one in five Iowans who seek treatment for a gambling addiction have attempted suicide.

"It's a serious addiction and it's become more noticeable and more prevalent among people," Morris said.

Morris is a gambling educator for Mecca, a counseling service in Iowa City. He works with the Riverside Casino, which is owned and operated by the same group building the Lyon County project. Once a year he talks with all the employees at Riverside to tell them about the warning signs of problem gamblers.

"We kind of get feedback from them, and vice versa. They give us what they're seeing on the casino floor, and we tell them what to do if they encounter someone who's a compulsive gambler," Morris said.

Riverside also has brochures throughout its casino so people who think they have a problem know who to call.

"They've been great to work with, and they realize that there's dangers that go along with it too, and they are there to help people that need it," Morris said. 

And, while the Lyon County Casino will bring economic development, the county is also rolling the dice with the social problems that could follow.

"But, you also have to know with every good thing there's negative with it, and if the community is behind it there's always resources available for someone that needs help," Morris said.

Gambling counselors in Iowa say the impacts of gambling addictions won't be seen right away when a casino opens, because its usually a problem that grows over time, and gamblers won't get help until they are at the end and have lost almost everything.

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KELOLAND's Ben Dunsmoor and photojournalist Jesse Goebel traveled to Riverside, Iowa, last week to tour the casino, resort and hotel that was built four years ago. They talked with Riverside executives, guests, employees, Iowa City gambling counselors, as well as residents and city leaders in nearby Riverside, Iowa. They will bring you all those stories in a three-day special report on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

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