The 50-year-old civil engineer is fighting through recovery just as the state embarks on a dramatic expansion of casino gambling. Addiction experts fear the growth could set off a wave of self-destruction among the estimated 150,000 compulsive gamblers in Maryland, a state that has been slow to prepare.
With four casinos open and two more coming, the ranks of addicts are almost certain to grow, said the head of the state’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. One national study found that living within 10 miles of a casino increases a person’s odds of being a problem gambler by 90 percent.
Ray lives just two miles from Maryland Live Casino. When the Arundel Mills gambling hall added craps and other table games to its thousands of slots machines, he knew it would be a massive temptation.
“It’s a siren call,” said Ray, identified here by his middle name because he didn’t want to be publicly associated with the stigma of his disease.
Desperate to avoid being caught again in the grip of the game that ruined him, Ray drove to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency headquarters in Baltimore one day in April, entered a third-floor conference room with privacy-protecting frosted windows and became one of more than 230 problem gamblers to register for Maryland’s Voluntary Exclusion Program.
Putting himself on the little-known self-exclusion list meant he could be arrested and prosecuted if he entered any of the state’s casinos. He welcomed the extra deterrent.
“I’m feeling better,” he said. “But I’m in a vulnerable state.”
Already, he had been taking detours to avoid driving past the casino. When he couldn’t find another route, he’d avert his eyes.
See no evil, play no evil.
The human fallout from Maryland’s gambling binge worries even the state’s top gambling regulator. “I am concerned for people who already had [gambling] as a stress point now that we’re bringing it that much closer,” said Stephen Martino, director of the gaming control agency, which administers the state’s self-exclusion list for casinos and just launched a similar program for the lottery.
Research suggests that the rate of severe gambling addiction may double within 50 miles of a casino. In Maryland, the number of people living beyond that 50-mile zone is shrinking rapidly.
By 2016, the Baltimore-Washington corridor will be one of the most concentrated casino markets in the country, with Maryland Live sitting between the Baltimore Horseshoe Casino (opening next year) and another massive casino in Prince George’s County now in the bidding process.