Eric Pruess at the recent IRGC meeting.

The man who oversees Iowa Gambling Treatment program says March is National Problem Gambling Month — but the message has quickly changed as the coronavirus hit Iowa.

The state-licensed casinos shut down to prevent the spread of the virus — but Eric Preuss says that didn’t shut off all avenues to gamble. He says lottery tickets are still available, and he’s heard from counterparts in other states that people are turning to the stock market to get their gambling thrill.

“Trying to guess what’s going to happen with the market and trying to gamble that way. So, it’s just very interesting, “Preuss says. “The one thing we’re doing here at the department in the midst of this that’s COVID-19 related is still trying to assure that Iowans have access to care — whether it be related to problem gambling or substance abuse disorder treatment.”

He says that’s the big message right now during this pandemic. “If they’re looking for help for themselves or they’ve got concerns for someone else — give 1-800-BETTSOFF a call. Call Your Life Iowa, or go to the website, we’re still here to help,” he says. Preuss says some people may turn to gambling to deal with the anxiety of the current times. But he says it is not a given how anyone will react.

“It’s all so individual. I think for all of us and everyone who may be listening, I think we all have our own kind of anxiety dial and how bad is this for and how bad is it for us and ourselves,” Preuss says. “What I keep trying to tell myself and others that I work with is just stay in the moment, take care of the things that you need to take care of for today. You can’t worry about what’s going to happen two weeks from now or a week from now or even tomorrow per se.”

Preuss says there are some signs of possible gambling you might see in your family and friends. “Are they trying to hide the gambling that might be going on. Are they lying to someone else about what might be gambling? Are they wagering or betting more than they planned to wager?,” Preuss says. Preuss says you should know if you are experiencing concerns about gambling — it is not something you have to handle by yourself — and you are not the only one who may be dealing with it.

“You’re not alone if you are having those feelings. There’s 30,000 Iowans who have a gambling disorder in any given year. And there’s 314,000 adult Iowans at any given time that are experiencing some sign or symptom related to problem gambling,” Preuss says. “So if you are having that — you are not alone. Help is just a phone call away if you want to talk to someone about it.”

Preuss says there are no judgments made, and the help is available 24/7 365 days a year.