Las Vegas CU In Problem Gambling Initiative

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Nevada Federal Credit Union and the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling have combined forces to raise awareness of problem gambling for the credit union's members, employees and the community.

Southern Nevada has been one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States for several years. As a result, thousands of people have suddenly found themselves in near-constant proximity to gambling. Not only are the numerous casinos open 24 hours a day, there are slot and video poker machines available in most grocery and convenience stores.

Michael Traficanti, senior vice president of human resources for Nevada FCU, told The Credit Union Journal he formerly worked as an HR professional for some of the casinos and therefore was familiar with the Nevada Council for Problem Gambling's "When the Fun Stops-Understanding Problem Gambling" campaign.

Thanks to Traficanti's relationship with Carol O'Hare, the Council's executive director, NFCU became the first non-gaming employer in the state to adopt the program. Nevada gaming companies are required by regulation to provide employee training about problem gambling.

"We like to be as involved in the community as we can," Traficanti said. "I knew Carol, and she suggested partnering with other organizations to get the Council's message out. If not done properly, gambling can hurt people. It is an important community health issue, and we are a perfect fit, because people have to have money to gamble."

O'Hare complimented Nevada FCU for raising sensitivity to problem gambling.

"It is good business to be aware of the potential impact on employees or members," she said. "When the credit union took this interest, we were very happy. It is a workplace wellness issue, just like drugs, alcohol or harassment."

Training Day

Nevada FCU offers the "When the Fun Stops" program to all of its employees. Traficanti said three people in the HR department are certified to teach the course. Of the CU's 275 employees, all but the approximately 10 to 15 most recently hired personnel have taken the training.

The course takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete, and includes a video with recovering problem gamblers telling their stories. Also, there is a discussion of the stages of gambling addiction, which are similar to alcohol or drug addiction.

According to Traficanti, employees are appreciative of the information. "Not necessarily that people think they have a problem, but they are happy Nevada Federal Credit Union provides information about something that affects the community," he said.

In addition to employee training, the $800 million credit union makes information on the topic available to its 82,000 members in multiple ways. The CU's website has a page dedicated to problem gambling, plus a link to the NCPG's site. A consumer guide titled "Personal Financial Strategies for the Loved Ones of Problem Gamblers," which was co-created by the National Endowment for Financial Education and the National Council on Problem Gambling, is available at all 23 of its Southern Nevada branches. A message is printed on receipts at each of its 56 ATMs stating Nevada FCU supports the efforts of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, and gives the Council's toll-free, 24-hour helpline.

"Our hope is someone might reach into his or her pocket and pull out several ATM receipts, see the phone number, and realize help is available," Traficanti said.

The Hidden Addiction

According to the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, problem gambling is a "hidden addiction" because it is not as easily detected as alcoholism or substance abuse. A recovering problem gambler once said: "No one could smell the roll of quarters on my breath." The Council refers to "crossing the line" between fun gambling and problem gambling.

"We are in the gaming environment here in Las Vegas," noted Traficanti. "Problem gambling is a health issue, just like problem drinking. Some people can handle it, some can't. Some people can gamble and have fun, others have a problem, just like some people can have a drink or two and others can't stop."

O'Hare cited a 2000 study that found 6% of Nevada adults had a problem with gambling. She said other companies occasionally invite the NCPG to give seminars on an as-needed basis, but Nevada FCU remains the only non-gaming employer that has officially adopted the problem gambling training.

The goal of the training is to take away the stigma that often is attached to problem gambling, O'Hare said.

'People Are Not Stupid'

"These people are not stupid, and they are not bad money managers, they have a problem," she said. "While the training allows the credit union's employees to recognize signs that some members might have a gambling problem, it is not about creating the problem gambling police. The goal is to give a helpful response to the member and have a more productive conversation."

"There also is the mental health issue relating to the member," O'Hare continued. "The underlying addiction does not go away just because someone helps him or her straighten out the financial situation. The training helps people understand that."

The NCPG is not a treatment agency, it's goal is education, she said. The council hopes to link people to agencies that can help. O'Hare encouraged other credit unions near gambling areas to make the information available to their members. She said the Council's 24-hour helpline (1-800-522-9740) automatically routes callers to local agencies.

Warning Sgins Of Problem Gambling

* sing time from work or school due to gambling

* Repeated failed attempts to stop or control the gambling

* Lying about the amount of time and money spent on gambling

* Gambling to escape from life's problems

* Gambling for increasing amounts of time or with increasing amounts of money

* Gambling more money in an attempt to win back losses (chasing)

* Neglecting the care of one's self or family due to gambling

* Relying on loans or "bailouts" from family or friends to meet financial obligations

* Feelings of helplessness or depression or thoughts of suicide

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