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Advocate Wants N.H. To Offer Support for Problem Gamblers

Concord — The head of the state’s council on problem gambling says services for compulsive gamblers are needed before a casino is approved in New Hampshire.

Ed Talbot, a recovering compulsive gambler himself, told the New Hampshire Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority last week he knows the pitfalls of gambling well and hasn’t made a bet in almost 36 years.

“I thought gambling was great when I won and terrible when I lost,” Talbot, president of the New Hampshire Council on Problem Gambling, said in a telephone interview Friday.

The panel must submit draft legislation on casino regulations to lawmakers by Dec. 15. The panel was created after the House killed a casino bill this year that had passed the Senate with strong backing from Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The bill earmarked a small portion of the state’s profits to be used for services for problem gamblers, but Talbot said he believes those services should be in place now in anticipation of a rise in problem gambling resulting from a casino.

Talbot told the panel, which is working on regulations for a future casino in the state, that New Hampshire is one of 13 states that do not provide public money for problem gambling. He said there are New Hampshire residents with gambling problems who could benefit from a telephone help line and other services.

He estimated Friday that with $200,000 a year over the next three years, the council could open an office, train people to provide help to compulsive gamblers and use telephone help lines and the Internet to offer people a way to reach out for counseling. Talbot said he knows of no one in New Hampshire specializing in counseling problem gamblers. Traditionally, people are referred to substance abuse counselors who may lack the expertise to help gambling addiction, he said.

“From my own personal experience, it is so important that the person understands the gambler and what the gambler goes through,” he said.

He estimates he owed between $40,000 and $50,000 when he stopped gambling in November 1977. His wife had thrown him out of the house and he contemplated suicide but decided not to because he had a young daughter. He instead sought help from a priest who told him he needed help with his gambling addiction.

His daughter recently reminded him of the time he didn’t show up to chaperone her third-grade field trip. She told her classmates her father was busy working at his job at a dog track.

“Baloney. I was gambling,” said Talbot, 71.

He said New Hampshire has four independently run gamblers’ anonymous groups compared to about 50 groups in Massachusetts. The New Hampshire council split from a joint operation with Vermont in 2009, but has never had any money, Talbot said.

Mark Vander Linden, director of research and problem gambling for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, told the New Hampshire panel that Massachusetts is funding services and research into problem gambling as his state prepares to license three casinos and a video slots parlor.