As with so many, Mike Downey’s initial exposure to problem gambling came unexpectedly. The year was 1989 and Mike was working as a probation officer in Alexandria, Minnesota.

“I knew nothing about problem gambling until I worked with a first-time felon in his early 20s,” says Mike. “He was a good guy, but had been writing bad checks for pull tabs in bars.”

The more they talked, the more Mike learned about the man’s gambling behavior and how that was behind the bad checks. “That experience taught me that I needed to learn more about gambling addiction.” From that moment, Mike’s thirst for knowledge about problem gambling was nonstop and it became an integral part of his career.

When the Minnesota Department of Corrections learned of his interest in the role of gambling addiction in criminal activity, Mike was asked to work on gambling screens that probation officers could give to people convicted of certain offenses to see if compulsive gambling may have been a contributing factor. That requirement became known simply as “Rule 82.”

Mike, along with Roger Svendsen, played a leading role in developing a training curriculum for probation officers throughout Minnesota. “I don’t know of any other state that’s doing more to address the issue of problematic gambling in the correctional system, and it’s all due to Mike,” says Don Feeney, president of the Northstar board.

Mike says that when he first talked to inmates about gambling, they laughed. However, things began to change as education about program gambling became more established. “As the years progressed, more and more inmates starting approaching me to seek help once they got out of prison,” says Mike.

After retiring from the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Mike joined Northstar as a training consultant in 2010. “Mike was instrumental in expanding our outreach and in establishing new relationships with institutions where gambling addiction is particularly prevalent,” says Cathie Perrault, Northstar executive director.

“If you ever wonder if one person can make a difference, you don’t have to look any further than Mike,” says Don. “I loved the work I did,” says Mike. “If I played even a small role in getting people the help they needed, I’m very proud.”

In recognition of his long-term service on behalf of problem gamblers, Mike Downey is the recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Service Award.