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"It was stunning to me": Gambling addiction non-profit advertises free slot play at Plainville casino

Group that helps gambling addicts promotes free slot play
Group that helps gambling addicts promotes free slot play 02:31

PLAINVILLE - Advocates for gambling addiction recovery tell WBZ they were "shocked" when the organization tasked with helping people struggling with a gambling addiction advertised free slot play.

The Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health is a non-profit organization contracted by the state to help people struggling with a gambling problem. According to its website the Council is a "statewide non-profit agency that promotes public health by mitigating the negative personal and community impacts of gambling and gaming."

As a result, advocates for addiction recovery were shocked to discover the MACGH seemed to have partnered with a casino for a fundraiser and even offered free slot play.

The free slot play offer  CBS Boston

The event, which took place on December 1st at the Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, was a Toys for Tots toy drive, "In coordination with" the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, according to the flyer. People who brought a toy would receive $10 in free slot play at the casino in exchange.

"This promotion isn't designed for people to come in, get $10 of free play and then leave," said Harry Levant of Stop Predatory Gambling. "This is the lure."

"I was stunned," added Kathy Scanlan. She used to be the Director of the Mass. Council on Gaming and Health. "That the organization that is designed to help people who struggle with gambling problems would reward someone with a gambling product, free slot playing...It was stunning to me, actually in a not good sense."

"The idea that an organization that positions itself as a voice for addicted gamblers in the state is partnering with a casino interest," Les Bernal of Stop Predatory Gambling added.

Experts and advocates worry the event would be a trigger for those struggling with addiction, since it was shared on the MACGH's Facebook page, a page they say recovering addicts likely follow.

"[They're] encouraging their followers on social media to actually go to a casino with the promise of free play," Harry Levant said. 

Levant is currently getting his PhD in gambling addiction research. He personally is in his ninth year of recovery from what he says was a serious gambling addiction. 

"[The event] left me wondering from a trigger perspective how many of the people who are struggling with gambling problems, who the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health is supposed to be protecting, might go and take advantage of this promotion, and end up losing so much more that sadly they even need that toy back for Christmas," he said. 

WBZ reached out to the communications director of the Council for an explanation and received a response on Thursday. 

"In the effort to generate support for the Plainville Park Casino's Annual Toys for Tots Drive, we shared out a flyer they created. Unfortunately before resharing it on social media, we didn't review it closely enough to notice it included language advertising a gambling incentive for those who donated a toy at the casino," the Council said in a statement. "The original post has been removed to avoid further sharing potentially triggering language for those who have experienced problems with gambling."

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