Problem Gambling Awareness Week


When a person inquires about the difference between commercial and tribal government gaming, I have a simple explanation. Commercial casinos are about the present. Tribal gaming is about the future, the next seven generations, and beyond.

Commercial casino executives are responsible for generating earnings for investors and shareholders. Their concern lies with daily profit and loss sheets and the quarterly earnings report. They must focus on the bottom line.

Leaders of 230 American Indian tribes operating 420 casinos in 28 states are focused on using casino gaming to strengthen tribal governments and build strong and diversified tribal economies.

It is our responsibility to use gaming to create communities that are strong, vibrant and healthy, in both body and spirit. Native wellness is crucial as we rebuild the foundation of sovereign nations decimated by generations of poverty and neglect.

The National Council on Problem Gambling has designated March 1 – 7 as 7th Annual Problem Gambling Awareness Week. The grassroots campaign is intended to educate the public and health care professionals about problem gambling and raise awareness that help is available, both locally and nationally.

Research has shown only 2 to 3 percent of the population can be classified as problem and compulsive gamblers. I’m not comfortable with the term “only” when speaking about problem gambling.

Tribal leaders throughout the country look upon this week as a reminder of our commitment to using government gaming as it was intended, as a tool for rebuilding Native nations; creating healthy tribal communities and ensuring that our grandchildren and future generations have the opportunity to live a Native way of life.

Creating healthy communities requires that we confront problem and compulsive gambling and its often devastating impact on families, friends, employers and others. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about 2 percent or 3 percent or 1 percent of our tribal citizens and casino patrons. We must leave no one behind.

Our responsibility as tribal leaders in confronting problem gambling is greater than that of executives with casino companies and corporations. We are not focused solely on the bottom line. We are focused on the future of our people.

Taking steps

Our tribe, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, in 2007 became the first tribe in California to have its casino certified as a responsible gambling facility by the California Council on Problem Gambling, an NCPG affiliate. We plan to be recertified in 2009.

To achieve certification 75 percent of Viejas Casino’s frontline employees underwent 60 hours of training on how to identify and deal with persons exhibiting signs of problem gambling. Patrons in some cases may be told to temporarily leave the facility and think about the consequences of their actions. Viejas Casino also permanently excludes those identified as problem gamblers. We honor requests of compulsive gamers who ask that they be barred from the casino.

We want people to come to Viejas to have fun, dine and be entertained. But if a patron needs help, we see that they get it. Signs are posted throughout Viejas Casino urging those not happy sitting at slot machines and laying bets on the tables to call 1-800-GAMBLER for help. It may be the most important call of their life.

The Viejas policy is clear: “To protect individuals, families, employees and communities, Viejas Casino tries to identify problem gamblers, encourage them to seek assistance, and in appropriate cases may exclude them from casino property.”

The Viejas Tribal Council recognizes the need to help those who can’t help themselves. There are many facets to the Viejas Casino Responsible Gaming Program, which has been in force since 1999. Responsible gaming takes up much of the casino policy manual. It is incorporated in the Viejas Gaming Ordinance and Gaming Commission regulations.

Viejas produced and funded a responsible gaming infomercial that appeared regularly for several months on local cable television channels.

Viejas is not alone in our progressive approach to problem and compulsive gambling. Tribal nations throughout the country have established similar programs to train employees and help troubled patrons. As responsible governments, we are meeting the needs of tribal citizens and patrons of our business enterprises.

Tribal governments took the lead in providing problem gambling education and public awareness to the citizens of California.

The state of California – with its lottery, racetracks, card clubs and charitable gaming – had the nation’s sixth largest gaming industry before the first tribal-state gaming compacts were signed in 1999. Yet, there was no state agency to deal with gambling addiction until tribes contributed $3 million to establish the Office of Problem Gambling.

Similar stories can be told in a number of states with tribal government casinos and other forms of legal gaming.

Tribal leaders and others seeking information about problem gaming programs can contact NCPG or one of its 35 state affiliates.

Gaming has proven to be a valuable tool in creating a better, brighter future for tribal citizens and our non-Indian neighbors. We have just begun our shared journey. No one should be left behind.

Barrett is chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians and chairman of the California Tribal Business Alliance. He was the first tribal chairman in California to be certified as a problem gambling counselor.