Off the bet

On the long road to recovery, gambling addicts find a shortage of local support


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The meetings provide people like Mitch and Allen a support network that can help them be accountable in their recovery. The Monday gathering at Valor House is one of at least three different Gamblers Anonymous groups in Missoula, each of which follow the 12-step platform established by Alcoholics Anonymous. Most groups, including the one at Valor House, are led by volunteers. The state limits who can treat gambling addiction, meaning a significant number of licensed addiction counselors are not legally permitted to treat gamblers.

Pamela, a group regular who has been clean for two and a half years, says she feels the state of Montana should provide more to those who struggle with this problem, and chides it for using the money instead to support the state’s “dysfunctional budget.”

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“I don’t think we’ve ever figured,” Pamela says, “how many casinos are there in this town?”

Allen pulls out an iPhone and begins to Google “Missoula casinos” as Pamela starts thumbing through a phone book. Within a few minutes, Allen comes up with the results.

“There’re 44 that are within three miles of here,” he says.

In fact, the Gambling Control Division reported last year that there were 81 gambling locations in the city of Missoula, in which about 1,300 individual video gaming machines were operating. The machines in Missoula alone generated $4,157,666 in tax revenue in 2012; video gaming machines statewide last year brought Montana $54 million in taxes.

Not a dime of that money goes toward treatment of any sort for gambling addiction. Instead, the Montana Tavern Association, along with several other groups representing state gaming interests, provides funding for the Montana Council on Problem Gambling. The MTCPG provides training to qualified counselors in the state, but there are only three in Missoula with the credentials to treat gambling addiction.

MTCPG Chairman Mark Kennedy says the council is a private nonprofit, and that the decision to designate it as such was made more than 15 years ago after consulting with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. He says it was recommended because accepting state funds would be much slower than working directly with the gaming industry.

“It was a business decision,” Kennedy says.

The Valor House group is led by Kathy Bordner, a recovering gambling addict herself. The group receives no funding from anyone and is completely self-sustained. For the vast majority of people recovering from gambling addiction in Montana, who have no cash to afford private counseling or inpatient treatment programs, groups like these are their only option for recovery.



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