DOBSON — Surry County has taken on an active role in a new pilot program from the N.C. Problem Gambling Program.
The N.C. Problem Gambling Program has partnered with Surry Community College, East Surry, North Surry and Surry Central high schools and Mount Airy Middle School to test its campaign and curriculum programs to raise awareness about and prevent problem gambling. Surry is one of the few counties participating in the state with a college presence, multiple high schools and a middle school participating.
“Surry is going to be a fertile area for us for collecting data to see if the calls from that area to our hotline increase over time,” said Jon Rayle, problem gambling prevention coordinator.
The program will reach out to 10 colleges, including two community colleges, in the first year, 18 high schools, a handful of middle schools and three after-school programs. At each level the program varies slightly in order to be age appropriate.
At the middle school level, Mount Airy Middle School is serving as a sub-pilot site to see if the material presented is appropriate for seventh and eighth grade students, according to Rayle. For high school students, it becomes more of a curriculum classroom-based model because that is a program that works best in the high school setting. The high school program focuses more on prevention.
The college level program moves more toward a campus-wide campaign to raise awareness and point out the signs and symptoms of a gambling problem.
“We want the school to demonstrate it knows what to do and to put in place protocols for handling this,” said Rayle. “We look at does the campus have a policy they can look at. If they already ask questions about eating disorders, smoking and other behaviors, can they add a question about gambling? We want to raise awareness about the risks associated because it is not a risk-free behavior.”
Surry Community College started its campaign to raise awareness this fall by providing gambling hotline information and counseling information to all new employees along with their orientation packets. The college is providing, on a monthly basis in the student newsletter and in the employee newsletter, information on the hotline and awareness information. A slide is also included in the online class orientation information.
In the classrooms, the fall sports psychology class discussed both legal and illegal sports gambling and its potential influence on games. In the spring, the psychology of addictions class will also look at gambling.
The college is using part of its $5,000 portion of the grant to provide several opportunities throughout the year and around campus for students to see, hear or read about problem gambling. The school has purchased display racks to set up at different points around campus with brochures about the hotline and will be showing “21,” a film about the gambling habits of a group of college students, in the spring. Faculty and staff members have been attending professional development sessions on gambling through Sure Bet.
“We have a team here on campus called the Behavioral Assessment Team and we meet monthly. One of our members, who is a psychology teacher, went to Sure Bet on her own and told us about it. We thought it would be a good thing if we could get this money,” said Anne Marie Hardy, director of career services for the college. “Gambling has the potential to become a problem and the likelihood of that potential to be a problem is going to grow. Likely, 10 years from now I could sit here and show that it is a lot more apparent why we need this.”
Because gambling is a fairly new addition to the world of addictions, it may be more of a challenge to get people to realize that it can become a problem. Through these campaigns and curriculum programs, the N.C. Problem Gambling Program hopes to help curb some of the behaviors associated with gambling.
“In order for us to say we’re here to serve our students with things that are not directly in academia, we have to have programs like this in place. Anything we have in place to help our students personally will in turn help them academically,” said Hardy.
“Our goal is to prevent problem gambling behaviors from developing. We want to change the attitudes and change the beliefs about gambling and the third thing is we want to change the behavior, which is the most difficult,” said Rayle.
Developed through the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, this program is being looked at as a model outside the state as well. According to Rayle, this is the only evidence-based model for problem gambling being looked at on a federal level for possible implementation. As gambling becomes more widespread, organizations will have to take a closer look at how to raise awareness about the potential for a problem as it did for campaigns to warn people of the dangers of tobacco and alcohol use.
According to Rayle, a large majority of people in the United States can gamble recreationally without becoming addicted. However, there needs to be a focus on the small percentage of people to do become addicted.
“We want to take away the mystery and explain how this works. We want people to be educated in such a way that they know what they’re getting into. For the younger students, we want to teach the history of gambling in this country from where it started to where it is now to where it’s going. We want them to know that when they’re 18 they have a decision to make,” said Rayle.
One of the challenges the program faces is making people realize the many forms gambling can take. Sweepstakes operations, which have become a hot topic across the state, are a form of gambling as is playing the lottery or even playing charity Bingo. Rayle believes the problem will become even more widespread with the expansion of the Cherokee casinos.
Reach Morgan Wall at email@example.com or 719-1929,