In 1972, the board of trustees of Gamblers Anonymous of the New York City area asked its spiritual advisor, Monsignor Joseph P. Dunne, to establish a national organization to do what they, as an anonymous group, could not: call attention to the problem of compulsive gambling and make it known as a treatable illness.
Thirty years later, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), which now consists of 33 state affiliates, has made great progress in developing education and awareness programs across the country.
According to a history of the early years of NCPG by co-founder Msgr. Dunne, there was great ambivalence among the American public and heath care providers as to the social impact of gambling. In addition, there was a general perception among health care professionals and legislators that all problem gamblers were degenerate thieves. The possibility that they could be suffering from an uncontrollable psychological illness was as yet unthinkable, Dunne said.
Thanks to the early work of the council, public viewpoints about problem gambling slowly changed. Dunne and problem gambling treatment pioneer Robert L. Custer collaborated to establish the first programs for treatment and public education, gaining recognition for problem gambling as a public health issue. Finally, after eight years of activity, the American Psychiatric Association accepted the formal definition of pathological gambling developed with the help of the council.
Another milestone occurred in 1980, when the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, the first state affiliate of NCPG, was founded.
"Our strong values come from our diverse group of affiliates," said Carol O'Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling and executive vice president of NCPG. We each have a different niche based on the individual characteristics of gambling in our state, and the affiliate structure allows us to share this wealth of experience and information through the network."
Both O'Hare and Dunne count the development of the National Problem Gambling Helpline as NCPG's single greatest accomplishment to date.
"Now, instead of having to convince people that problem gambling is an issue, we're working with people to develop solutions," she said. "Our most successful initiatives have been based on the collaboration of several different entities, including the gaming industry. Having these relationships has strengthened our progress. We have become a more comprehensive resource than our founders envisioned."