The manager of the state program charged with treating and preventing problem gambling says the number of people seeking treatment did increase last year. Mark Vander Linden gave a presentation on the program to the state Racing and Gaming Commission. Vand Linden says treatment providers served 948 people last year, which is up slightly, but right around the average of the last five years.

Vander Linden says the Iowa Gambling Treatment and Prevention Program treats about two-point-seven percent of the people with a gambling problem. He says that’s significantly greater than other states that have publically-funded gambling treatment programs — which serve roughly one-half of one percent of problem gamblers.

Although Iowa serves five times more people than other states, Vander Linden says there is still a significant gap between the people with a problem and the people who’re served. Vander Linden says they’ve been looking to improve the service numbers by creating more efficient links between service providers.

He says one example of that is the development of a statewide web-based distance treatment program that allows them to reach out to people where there are barriers to treatment because of the distance, or even because of the stigma of seeking treatment. Vander Linden says the picture of a problem gambler is split just about evenly among women and men.

Vander Linden says last year was believed to be the first time they served more women than men. He says 95% of the problem gamblers treated have a high school education or beyond, 91% are white, 44% are employed fulltime, 73% are between the ages of 30 and 59 and 57% have between one and three children.

Other stats show 30% of the people treated have debt of over $20,000 and 32% have declared bankruptcy and 17% have been arrested in the past 12 months. Vander Linden says a U.N.I. study found the treatment being offered by the program has proved to be effective. He says 98% of the people discharged after completing treatment said their gambling activity was much less than when they entered treatment, and six months afterward, that was maintained by 93%.

Seventy-seven percent said their gambling debt was much less after treatment and 67-percent maintained that six months after being discharged. The research also found 92% of those treated said their life was much better than at admission.

National Problem Gambling Awareness Week is March 6 to 12. For more information about problem gambling, call 1-800-BETSOFF (1-800-238-7633) or go on-line to: www.1800betsoff.org.