Southwest Virginia holds first Problem Gambling Prevention Conference

ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) — The Southwest Virginia Region Three Wellness Council hosted its first-ever Problem Gambling Prevention Conference at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center on Wednesday.

Several stakeholders in the gambling industry were there, including a representative from Hard Rock International, which is constructing its casino in Bristol, and the Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

The National Council on Problem Gambling said 2.5 million people in the U.S. meet the criteria of having a severe gambling problem. Gambling in Virginia is growing faster than almost any other state.

Devin Perdue of Pulaski, Virginia, said he knows firsthand how gambling addiction can destroy lives, as it almost destroyed his. That’s why he was a keynote speaker at Wednesday’s Problem Gambling Prevention Conference.

“It got so out of control it destroyed my finances, my family,” he said. “It almost destroyed my marriage and even to a point my physical health also.”

Perdue says he started “gambling” when he was only seven years old with a simple poker game with his family. Then, it grew to online gambling, sports betting and more. He said his decades-long gambling addiction grew to where it was all he cared about, and he was massively in debt.

For him, complete abstinence from gambling was his only solution, but with options to gamble in Virginia growing he says he hopes others can practice responsible gambling.

“I have hope that implementing the right resources and tools to help people manage their finances and relationships and guide them along the way,” Perdue said.

In fact, many of those tools and resources to prevent problem gambling are funded by the gambling industry’s revenue, including the lottery and casinos.

Paul Pellizzari of Hard Rock International says they advertise gambling help lines throughout the casinos and their employees are trained to spot red flags of problem gamblers.

“So if they’ve been there for an extended period, or they comment that they can’t go home, or they make too many trips to the ATM, we train our employees to look for combinations of those signs and then how to have those conversations,” Pellizzari explains.

But, those who advocate for people with gambling problems say the opportunity to gamble and possibly become addicted is outpacing the resources for help.

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