An innovative and award-winning program being used by U.S. lotteries is providing insights to schoolchildren into how gambling problems can be identified and addressed. True to the collaborative roots of the modern-day lottery industry, their willingness to share the program with others has led to it being seen in classrooms across the United States and other countries.
The program is called Beat Addiction, and its roots begin in Missouri. According to Missouri Lottery Chief Branding Officer Gary Gonder, the program was produced by his organization for the Missouri Alliance to Curb Problem Gambling. “About a decade ago, we did segmented gambling awareness programs for older adults and the like,” said Gonder. “After we produced a poster and brochures for a youth awareness program, we felt like this segment needed more and special attention.”
After learning of a live-action addiction awareness theater production funded by a Canadian lottery, the Missouri Alliance approached a local theater group with ties to schools around the state. While this group had performed during assemblies on various topics important to students, the initial response from school administrators to a gambling awareness program was lukewarm.
“A lot of educators said they didn’t understand what we were trying to accomplish. They felt kids didn’t have issues with gambling,” said Gonder. “Since we didn’t seem to be getting very far with them, we decided to broaden the approach to cover different types of addiction – such as with drugs and alcohol – while also covering problem and compulsive gambling issues.”
While the program was effective for several years, changes in schedules followed by many schools meant the demise of the school assembly. As a result, in 2003 the Missouri Lottery produced a program to be shown via video during health classes, and the Beat Addiction program was born.
The program, recommended for grades 6 through 12, included a 30-minute program featuring personal stories of people in recovery from various addictions. A facilitator’s guide that encouraged group discussions and a poster were also included.
Gonder says work with local school officials was key in the early success of Beat Addiction.
“Our state Department of Education partnered with us to develop the curriculum,” he said. “When we were able to meet the state’s curriculum standards for personal and social development, school started to quickly embrace the program.”
More than 700 kits were shipped out in the first wave.
Gonder and other Missouri Alliance staffers kept track of how Beat Addiction was performing, and received important feedback from the students who participated in the program. “We started conducting focus groups. It became clear the kids reacted positively to the program, but that they needed to see more young people that they could identify with – and those young people needed to be more diverse,” said Gonder.
This led to a 2009 re-issue of the program, and this second edition (available in both English and Spanish) has been sent to more than 1500 schools in Missouri. The new video features more stories from kids about addiction issues, and has a widely diverse cast as narrators.
The video was produced in-house by the Missouri Lottery, and is a point of pride for Gonder. “People here really stepped up to make this project happen,” he said. “We had to shoot one pivotal scene where a car catches on fire, and our IT director here actually gave us an old car that was torched by our local fire department. Some of the kids that appear in the video were friends of the children of staff members here. There were many people at the Missouri Lottery who were connected to this project in one way or another.”
The presentation was a hit not only with schools around the state but also with other lottery organizations looking to reach out to young people. Lotteries in Kentucky, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Zealand adopted the program.
In 2006, the Kentucky Lottery Corporation (KLC) was looking for a way to spread the addiction awareness message to young people in the state. When staff members there learned about the Beat Addiction program, they approached the Missouri Lottery to see if they would share it. “The lottery industry in the U.S. has a great amount of cooperation between states, and Missouri immediately agreed to let us use their program,” said Chip Polston, vice president of communications, public and government relations for the KLC.
Kentucky decided to re-brand the program and call it Choices – There’s Always A Right One. New artwork was created, yet the video and curriculum from the Missouri program remained the same. In a joint initiative with the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling (KYCPG), more than 100 schools across the state have received the program.
“Research in our state indicates a significant amount of gambling behavior in middle and high school students,” said Mike Stone, director of the KYCPG. “Choices provides a generic message any school can use to allow the introduction to the issue of gambling addiction. We really appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Kentucky Lottery in distributing this program, and it’s a great example of industry‑council cooperation to serve a public good.”
Deborah Shockley is a high school counsellor in Winona, Missouri. She said students there were able to identify with the characters in the new video.
“The kids thought the whole video was very true to life,” said Shockley. “They said the characters in the video matched up with a lot of the population in their county.”
Gonder says stories like the ones in Beat Addiction need to be told. The number of young people facing problem or compulsive gambling issues continues to rise – but few want to acknowledge the issue.
“Problem gambling doesn’t get the attention as other addictions faced by kids,” Gonder concedes. “We put this program in place so kids would ask – do I know anyone who is like this? – and if the answer was yes, we could show them how to find help.”
Chip Polston serves as vice president of communications, government and public relations for the Kentucky Lottery Corporation (US). He is aboard officer of the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling, a member of the NASPL responsible gaming subcommittee, and a member of the affiliates council and communications committee of the National Council on Problem Gambling (US)
To request a copy of the “Beat Addiction” program, contact Holly Koofer-Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (573) 526-7467.
For a copy of “Choices” contact Chip Polston at email@example.com or (502)560-1675.