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ECSU program enters next phase in fight against problem gambling on campus

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Posted at 8:26 AM, Sep 28, 2021

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. - When does a little bit of gambling here and there turn into a problem? A local university is looking into that question with a new program designed to fight problem gambling on campus.

In March, Dr. Kim Downing, the Director of Elizabeth City State University's Social Work program, surveyed 93 students to find out what role, if any, gambling plays in their lives.

44 percent answered 'yes' to at least one of the 20 questions related to compulsive gambling traits. Questions included, "Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?" and "Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?"

"It was surprising. When I actually scored the surveys, I didn't anticipate that number and I didn't anticipate having students fall into compulsive gambling," she told News 3 of the handful who answered 'yes' to seven or more questions, indicating a possible addiction.

With the help of a $5,000 state grant, Downing started the Center for Assessment and Prevention of Problem Gambling. Around the time of the survey, she put out public service announcements on campus and brought in two speakers to talk about their past gambling issues and how it impacted their lives.

"Problem gambling is where it's no longer a choice. It's an addiction or it's progressing towards an addiction," Downing said.

With casinos on the way in nearby Norfolk and Portsmouth, online sports betting legal just across the state line in Virginia and a bill to legalize it in North Carolina moving through the state legislature, the issue couldn't be more relevant, Downing says.

"I think often, because [students are] young, they don't understand the ramifications. It's just about fun," she tells News 3.

Now, armed with another $5,000 grant from the state, Downing and a handful of Social Work students called "peer educators," are out to better understand the impact of gambling on campus.

In October, she says they will begin surveying 300 students.

"We know with COVID and having been locked at home, we saw an increase nationally with gambling but we want [students] to be aware of the red flags," said Downing.

She also wants to help any who might be struggling get to the right services.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of a gambling problem, visit morethanagamenc.com or call 1-877-718-5543