Las Vegas center continues founder’s vision for problem gambling treatment

Robert Hunter / International Problem Gaming Center

Stephanie Goodman, executive director of the Dr. Robert Hunter International Problem Gaming Center, poses with former Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin last month during a rebranding event for the center.

Last month, the Dr. Robert Hunter International Problem Gaming Center hosted an event to announce the rebranding of the nonprofit organization, formerly known simply as the Problem Gaming Center.

Named for the man who founded it in 1998, the center reported just over 200 intakes for the 2018 fiscal year. It estimates more than 130,000 Nevadans, about 6% of the state’s population, are problem gamblers.

Earlier this year, advertising agency owner Stephanie Goodman took over as the center’s executive director.

The Sun recently visited with Goodman about her role, the issues surrounding problem gaming and the center’s founder.

You’re new to this role, but you’re not unfamiliar to the gaming industry, correct?

I grew up in Las Vegas. My father worked at Caesars Palace for many years as a baccarat dealer. I love the gaming industry and what it has meant and does mean for our state. I’ve been on the other side, and I’ve seen how the industry has embraced the idea of helping those who have a gambling problem. People understand now that this is a legitimate addiction, even though there’s still stigma associated with it out there in the world. We’re working hard to get rid of that stigma.

You started in April. How have your first few months been as executive director?

It’s been great. The camaraderie at the center is amazing. That’s something I’ve been so impressed by. The people we have working here are very smart, very talented people. I’m just proud to be associated with them.

The foundation that was laid by Dr. Hunter, that’s something that lives on. This is his program. With the cognitive behavioral therapy aspect, along with group therapy and the science behind what’s happening in a person’s brain, those are the components that he built this program on. It’s an amazing process.

Personally, I hope to do more community outreach as time goes on, but it’s been really good so far.

Some might think that a resort would welcome anyone spending money at their business, but you consider casinos as partners. Why?

I don’t think the casinos want the problem gamblers. Our casino industry, I think, understands the level of responsibility they have.

There’s a very small percentage of people who just can’t gamble, and I don’t think there are any casino owners out there who want people to lose their mortgages at their casino. We’re the gaming capital of the world and we should be the thought leaders on gaming in general and on problem gaming. I see that the casinos want to do the right thing. I definitely see the industry as our partner.

One of the things Dr. Hunter insisted on was that he wouldn’t turn people away if they couldn’t afford treatment. How important is that to the center?

We’re state-funded. We get a fee for service, but we tend to see patients longer than maybe what that fee covers. We supplement with fundraising. We do have a $10 co-pay, but nobody is ever turned away. If you have a gambling addiction, you’re probably not going to have a lot of money, and that’s something that Dr. Hunter understood.

What are some key signs that people can look for if they suspect a loved one might have an issue with gambling?

If you’re really preoccupied with gambling, maybe with your kids, and all you can think about is gambling, that’s a sign. If someone’s borrowing money to gamble or gambling to escape, those are red flags.

We find with our veterans that might have PTSD that they may be looking to escape from whatever they’re feeling by gambling. A lot of times, our patients are brought to gambling by something traumatic that happened to them. If you’re a wife or a sibling or older child, if you notice a person is missing work or school to be at a casino, that’s a red flag.