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Speakers, Awards Featured at Alliance's 10th Anniversary Event

A nationally acclaimed speaker and a St. Louis area woman, who is in recovery from a gambling addiction, highlighted the 10th anniversary event of the Missouri Alliance to Curb Problem Gambling (Alliance). Two special awards also were presented during the event, which was held at 1 p.m. Dec. 17 at Provident Inc., 2650 Olive St. in St. Louis.

"This event gave us the opportunity to highlight many of the Alliance's programs and important individuals from the past 10 years," said Gary Gonder, chairman of the Alliance and director of Integrated Services for the Missouri Lottery. "This Alliance works only because of the commitment from its members. While we looked at the past today, we are in the process of planning for the future. We need to continue to reach out to problem gamblers and their family members, and develop the programs that will provide them the help that they need to beat this addiction."

The featured speaker for today's event was Dr. Renee Cunningham-Williams, an associate professor at George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, who presented information on recent problem gambling research.

Marlene, a St. Louis area woman, provided a moving personal story about the addiction that left her contemplating suicide. Through counseling and group therapy, Marlene is in recovery and is enjoying her life.

"My daughter talked me into calling the Bets Off number," she recounted. "From the first lady I spoke to on the Bets Off line to my counselor, everyone has been so wonderful and so understanding." Marlene said her addiction nearly took her life, but today she is enjoying spending time with her family, especially her two young grandchildren.

"I'm working three part-time jobs to pay off my debts," she said. "Every time I clean a toilet or mop the floor with a broom, I remember why I'm doing this and why I never want to go back. If I hadn't gotten the help I needed, I would've had two grandbabies who never would have known me."

Dr. Renee Cunningham-Williams

In addition the speakers, Dr. Cunningham-Williams received the Alliance's 2007 Outstanding Contributor award for her work in problem gambling research in Missouri and her valuable contributions and insights in helping design many of the Alliance programs and initiatives. She is one of few social workers in the nation conducting award-winning epidemiologic and treatment research in pathological gambling and co-occurring disorders.

Mike Ryan, owner of Ryan and Associates of St. Louis and former executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association, was presented with the Alliance's 2007 Service Award. Ryan was instrumental in the Mike Ryan creation of the Alliance. He guided the casinos in establishing the nation's first statewide responsible gaming committee, which established the
1-888-BETS OFF help line. He led the effort to establish responsible gambling standards for Missouri casinos and a statewide college scholarship program. He officially retired from the Missouri Gaming Association in December 2006, but he remains active on the Missouri Gaming Association's Responsible Gaming Committee and is serving on committees for the Midwest Conference on Problem Gambling and Substance Abuse.

The Alliance was the first statewide coalition created in the United States to build awareness of problem gambling issues and programs available to Missouri residents. Its unique voting membership includes the Missouri Council on Problem Gambling Concerns Inc., the Missouri Department of Mental Health, the Missouri Gaming Commission, the Missouri Lottery, the Missouri Gaming Association and the Port Authority of Kansas City. Additional members include counselors, researchers and representatives from other organizations and state departments.

The Alliance's mission is to heighten public awareness of the dangers of problem gambling; develop prevention and education programs for gamblers of all ages; and direct problem gamblers and their families to the 1-888-BETSOFF help line and free treatment.

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Compulsive gambling is a behavior disorder in which an individual has an uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble. This results in excessive gambling, the outcome of which is loss of time and money.

The gambling reaches the point at which it compromises, disrupts or destroys the gambler's personal life, family relationships or vocational pursuits. The key signs are emotional dependence on gambling, loss of control and interference with normal functioning.