Michigan Gambling Helpline Calls Tripled in First Year of Legalized Betting

In its first year of legalized betting and gambling, calls made to Michigan's gambling hotline nearly tripled.

That is according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), which said on Friday that more than 4,400 calls were made to the state's problem gambling helpline last year. That is approximately three times the number of calls made compared to the 2020 calendar year, or the year before online gambling was approved.

There has also been a 42 percent increase in referrals made to encourage others to undergo gambling treatment. Numbers rose from 295 referrals in 2020 to 420 referrals in 2021.

DraftKings is one of many online betting and gambling companies that have become commonplace across America. Some states are reporting that calls made to gambling addiction hotlines have grown exponentially after going legally live. Scott Olson/Getty

The MDHHS has cited younger individuals who are already suffering from mental and emotional impacts due to the pandemic as those potentially susceptible to gambling issues. It also said that the rate of problem gambling among high school students is twice that of adults, and someone gambling by age 12 will be four times more likely to develop a gambling addiction.

"These platforms engage in a pay-to-play format, so by their nature they're addicting and difficult to escape," said Alia Lucas, MDHHS gambling disorder program manager. "This can lead to severe financial trouble, as well as strained personal and work relationships as people participate in these spaces more than ever before."

The state's 14th annual Gambling Disorder Symposium is taking place March 3-4.

According to the American Gaming Association, sports betting is legal and live in 30 states plus Washington DC. Notable states that have yet to legalize sports betting or online gambling include California and Texas.

Connecticut is one of the states that has legal sports betting and online gambling. According to The Day, the number of helpline calls in the state had "quadrupled" by January of this year and the number is gradually rising.

Calls were up 87 percent in November 2021 compared to the previous year and numbers have ramped up each month. The council reportedly stated that calls were up 122 percent overall from October 2021 to January of this year compared to the same period a year earlier.

"I didn't think it would increase this fast," Diana Goode, the council's executive director, told The Day. "Normally, it takes a problem gambler a while to hit rock bottom and raise their hand. I thought we'd have six months to a year to sort things out, but people are losing everything in a weekend. The speed with which people are losing all their money has been shocking as far as I'm concerned."

New York's online gambling went live January 8 and, according to the New York Post, generated nearly $2 billion in wagers and $70 million in state tax revenues during the first 30 days of operation. That did not take into account Super Bowl-related wagers.

However, statewide betting operators have reportedly still lost about $200 million due to promotions that often offer new users free money to use within certain apps and services.

Services like DraftKings and FanDuel offer gambling addiction assistance on their mobile apps and websites, including lists of state-specific and national numbers to call for help with individual or familial issues. They routinely encourage responsible gambling, but it remains unclear how many users adhere to such messages.

Newsweek reached out to both companies for comment.

"We believe that the expansion of online gambling, including sports betting, has increased the severity and rate of gambling problems," executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling Kevin Whyte told Newsweek.

He also pointed out that increased calls for help have also been driven by increased promotions by various gambling services. Whyte said an increase in calls is not always directly tied to an increase in addiction.

Either way, he said the national rate is growing. Across the U.S. in the past year, there has been a 45 percent increase in gambling hotline calls and a 100 percent increase in text and chat communications.

As more states legalize and more people get into the act, he expects numbers to hit 100 percent by next year. Prevention efforts should mimic or be equivalent to those done for other common addictions.

"It has to be a public health approach, similar to the way we treat alcohol and drug issues," he said.

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