In February 2021, the Michigan Problem Gambling Helpline took almost double the number of calls, 563, as the same month in 2020.
Researchers at the Lansing State Journal believe this is linked to the launch of online gambling in the state this year and, due to the pandemic, more people heading online to gamble than visiting a brick and mortar casino.
At the end of 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law the legalisation of online gambling. This was a bipartisan bill that has brought in more than $36 million in taxes to the state, much of which is going towards problem gambling prevention.
While there has been a big boom in the MI online gambling business, this has coincided with a spike in those seeking help for gambling problems and addictions. In 2019, the Michigan Gambling Helpline took between 100 and 300 calls per month which have risen to more than 500 this year, just one month after online gambling was launched.
According to Jim Loree, a mental health and addictions therapist at the Lansing Institute of Behavioural Medicine, there could be 10 people dealing with a gambling addiction for every helpline call. With most of 2020 and 2021 spent indoors, players have been switching to online casinos.
The new legislation for online gambling in the state has seen operators take nearly $260 million in gross receipts in just three months from January to March. Of this total, over $36 million has been paid in taxes to fund problem gambling prevention, a first responders fund, internet gaming law enforcement and more in Michigan.
It has also added an extra $1 million to the Compulsive Gaming Prevention Fund in the state.
A specialist in Michigan’s Gambling Disorder Program, Alia Lucas, said: “We’re not anti-gambling. There are a ton of people who can gambleand have a good time without it compromising their lives, but we want to make sure individuals are aware of the circumstances when there can be problems and what to do in the event that those issues present themselves. Someone who lies about how often they gamble or bets with money that is supposed to be used for tuition, bills, food or gas might have a problem.”
The state is working to increase awareness of disordered gambling and is particularly aiming this at the younger generation. They can help people sign up to Michigan’s disassociated person list that installs up to a five year or lifetime ban from Detroit casinos. There is now an online version too and people can sign up to this database to ban themselves from playing at online gaming sites. It also gives players the option to limit how much they spend at online casinos each day.
In the future, there could be calls for the state to take more action on gambling advertising as they have done in other countries such as the UK.
Michelle Malkin, a PhD candidate studying problem gambling at Michigan State University, highlighted this problem and the stark difference between the number of gambling commercials versus the advertising for organizations that can help those with gambling problems.
If you think you have a gambling problem you can call the Michigan Problem Gambling Helpline on 1-800-270-7177 for a free and confidential service from experienced counsellors.