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March Madness highlights awareness of problem gambling

New York Council on Problem Gambling
via Facebook

With March Madness upon us, Central New Yorkers might be filling out their college basketball brackets and maybe even using mobile sports betting apps.  But for some, the urge to gamble goes beyond the occasional wager, and becomes an addiction.   

Jeffrey Wierzbicki is with the Western and Finger Lakes Problem Gambling Resource Center. He says it’s known as the hidden addiction that poses more than financial problems. He says gambling often creates trouble with family.   

“Your children possibly noticing that a parent might be just absent from a lot of family events because they're either distracted by sports betting, distracted by going to the casino so that absenteeism is a really big warning sign.”

Wierzbicki says the mobile sports betting apps have become especially popular and problematic for young men who quickly develop gambling problems. 

“They're actually spending their college money," Wierzbicki said. "They're returning home because they can't complete their schooling, and parents are very concerned about the 18 to 24 year old age group, especially with how accessible it is, and there's no one to watch them. There's no policing of these apps. They're not showing ID to walk into a building, and there's nobody there that can see how much money is being spent.”

Wierzbicki says people have developed gambling problems with everything from scratch-off tickets and bingo to Facebook raffles. But he says there’s plenty of help available.

“If they're looking for GA [Gamblers Anonymous] meetings, we can help connect them with that," Wierzbicki said. "If they want long term counseling, we can connect them to that. If it's just online resources, we have those available. So someone can go at their own pace. Making that first phone call is difficult. Reaching out for help is really hard and we just want to make sure that what someone is ready for, we can provide that to them.” 

The central region gambling help line is (315) 413-4676 or 1-877-8 HOPE-NY. March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at