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'Silent addiction:' How Arkansas is battling gambling addiction in the state

Gambling has gotten easier to do over the last few years in Arkansas. That increased accessibility comes also opens the door for gambling addiction.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Gambling has gotten easier to do over the last few years in Arkansas, but that also presents its fair share of problems.

It has potentially opened the door for gambling addiction, something some Arkansas groups are trying to help.

"If we're going to have gambling here, we want to be responsible to the residents of Arkansas," Janet Miller, Executive Director of the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling, said. 

Miller knows the signs of addiction – she helps answer the calls from Arkansans who need help.

"We've answered almost 68,000 calls, texts, and chats," Miller said.

So, why is a Louisiana organization helping Arkansans?

There isn't a hotline specific to Arkansas, and even if there was, there aren't trained staff ready to help.

It's part of the reason why Miller was in Hot Springs on Friday.

"Also looking at responsible gambling for anybody who is gambling, but also those who are not to treat the problem," she said.

The Arkansas Problem Gambling Council held a symposium Friday to discuss ways to help those who are struggling. Chairman Vena Schexnayder said it's a problem that impacts more than 20,000 Arkansans.

"So we call it a silent addiction, right? A lot of times with the drug or alcohol issues, that's something prevalent that you can see," she said. "But again, sometimes with the gambling, you can't quite see it."

Schexnayder said they're not for or against gambling, they just want to connect people with the right resources, though she admits it's difficult when things there's not a phone line that's specific to Arkansas.

"There's a push to help collaborate with Louisiana to be able to receive those calls and kind of have like a rollover into the community treatment services and community mental health providers," she said.

Another thing they're trying to work through – mobile sports betting.

"So that access does open up the door to others, but then also that access also may increase addiction as well," Schexnayder said.

It's why they're pushing to help anyone struggling with gambling addiction-- to make sure those who need help get it.

"It's not a shame or blame game," Schexnayder said. "We just want everybody to be responsible."

If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling addiction, you can call 1-800-522-4700 for help.

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