The head of the Central Iowa Gambling Treatment Program says calls to their hotline are up regarding the state lottery’s new “Touch Play” games. The operators of Iowa casinos have objected to the colorful machines, saying they mimic slot machines, which are tightly regulated, but 4,500 of the Touch-Play machines have been installed in gas stations, grocery stores, bars and restaurants around the state. Lisa Pierce says counselors are seeing their impact on problem gamblers. She calls the machines, “a living nightmare.”
Pierce says 20-percent of all the calls that came in to the program’s 1-800-“BETS-OFF” hotline in the month of December were about the Touch Play machines.
She says they’re tremendously accessible. Some gamblers trying to stop have used the “self trespass” program that lets them sign up to be banned from casinos but she says these machines are available “absolutely everywhere they go, except for in the churches and schools.”
Pierce says gambling addicts can’t stay away from the game. She tells of getting a call from a sobbing woman who’d married a man with a gambling problem after agreeing he’d ban himself from the casinos. They hadn’t had any problems up to now but the woman told her that now her husband’s stopping at the local gas station and spending his paycheck before he gets home. Now they’re facing separation, she says.
The lottery machines have a pre-set number of winners, unlike the random chance of casino slot machines, but opponents say they look and sound like the real thing even though they legally can be placed in public places including bars and convenience stores.