AUBURN — About 50 people attended the Annual Conference on Problem Gambling Awareness Issues on Monday to share views on assessment and treatment of addiction.

A keynote address by Julie Hynes of the University of Oregon covered emerging trends in video gaming. She emphasized the recent and rapid increase of problem gambling as a result of online games. Many of these new problems are familiar to young people but still unknown to most parents.

She described the characteristics of online game-play that contribute to a culture of gambling-related behavior. Smartphones are everywhere, she said. Hynes told of a trip to Disney World where she saw people of all ages, “even at the happiest place on Earth,” absorbed in their small screens.

All kinds of online activity can lead to behaviors related to gambling, Hynes said.

“It’s very jarring that this thing can explode so rapidly these days,” she said.

Hynes, a board member of the National Council on Problem Gambling and the senior community health analyst at the University of Oregon, explained how fantasy sports began with season-long participation by players who build teams of all kinds. Football, baseball and basketball have been most common, but everything from golf to soccer has online fantasy team representation.

Colleges ban players on their teams from participating in online fantasy team competition.

Fantasy sports gaming underwent a speed-up to daily versions in recent months, with enhancement of instant gratification opportunities. Hynes told the conference attendees that Las Vegas now has arenas where people pay to watch gamers competing on video.

“The quick money situation is really golden,” she said.

Hynes described ways in which free online games bring young people into activities that can become problems.

“They are being trained” with games in much the same way that candy cigarettes are said to have led children to become smokers.

Hynes warned that educators and parents “are behind the curve” in recognizing the impact of “eSports” on potential problem gambling.

In the afternoon, Shirley Hoak, a noted advocate of problem gambling treatment in Connecticut, conducted an in-depth discussion with attendees about screening clients for problem gambling disorders. She emphasized that research related to online gaming is still incomplete.

The presenters at the conference noted that their aim was to be neutral and non-judgmental about legal gambling. They acknowledged that General Fund revenue from the gaming industry is substantial.

One of the ironies of the gambling culture is that the government spends virtually nothing on problem gambling, yet the Internal Revenue Service is quick to get its share of winnings, Hoak noted.

“It’s fun for those who do it responsibly,” Hoak said, who told the attendees about the years when she had been a problem gambler.

The problems arise because “this is an addiction that sells hope,” she said.

Hoak concluded her presentation with three important messages.

First, she emphasized that “gambling is not a risk-free activity.” She then said we need to know how to keep the problem out of gambling. And, finally, “Help is available for people with gambling problems and persons affected.”

The mission and vision of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling was outlined in a presentation by Scott M. Gagnon, who is that organization’s president, and other members of its board.

The conference program provided advice on how to collaborate with Maine’s gaming industry to promote responsible gambling. Information on funding opportunities for people who can’t afford to pay for their gambling disorder treatment also was offered.

Several representatives of Maine’s gaming industry were present. They discussed efforts the industry takes to increase awareness of problem gambling.

AdCare Educational Institute of Maine was a primary sponsor of the conference.

The daylong program took place at the Hilton Garden Inn Riverwatch.

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