Tennessee gambling addiction hotlines are booming with traffic.
Since the onset of legal sports betting in the Volunteer State on Nov. 1, calls have risen significantly.
The National Problem Gambling Hotline is a country-wide call center that routes regional callers to the Tennessee REDLINE.
These toll-free services both offer 24/7 addiction treatment information and referrals to Tennesseans.
Sports betting provides increased hotline awareness
Before sports betting’s launch, the lottery was the only form of gambling permitted in the state.
In October, the Tennessee REDLINE, coordinated by the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug and other Addiction Services (TAADAS), saw a 100% year over year increase in calls. A total of 17 callers dialed the line – an uptick caused by requests for gambling addiction information.
In the eight days following Tennessee’s sports betting legalization, a record 43 people called in.
Keith Whyte of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) points to increased awareness in the state as the principal cause.
“There’s a base rate in Tennessee of about 2.2% of people who have a gambling problem. Now that people are aware help is available, they’re seeking help for gambling problems they’ve had for a long time now.”
Whyte notes a general lack of services and funds as cause for the limited awareness.
Prior to gambling expansion in the state, only $200,000 in annual funds were allocated to problem gambling services. With such a sparse reserve, state gambling addiction prevention and education resources have been minimal.
The NCPG conducted a 2018 study of 28,000 people, 500 of which were from Tennessee.
From the study, 68% of those Tennesseans believe the gambling industry should do more to help people with gambling addiction. Only 39% said they would know where to seek help if someone close to them had a gambling problem.
Tennessee’s new responsible gambling initiatives
The Tennessee Education Lottery (TEL) instated certain regulations to encourage responsible gambling. For instance, sportsbooks must list helpline information on all marketing material.
The hotlines, in return, are afforded increased visibility.
Moreover, Volunteer State operators must pay a 20% tax rate.
Of this, 5% is funneled into gambling addiction initiatives provided by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
This will result in an additional $2.5 million allotted to problem gambling in the first year.
Whyte anticipates the state will need at least that much to offer bettors appropriate resources.
“Hopefully it will allow more broad-based public education awareness to help prevent problems in the first place.”
The pandemic intensifies potential problems
Online sports betting launched in a period when residents have less disposable income and more free time.
John Norton of the NCPG said, “During times of economic hardship – like we’re going through now – people reach out to gambling helplines because the financial pinch is more severe.”
First-time bettors can easily become overwhelmed after one wrong bet turns into a substantial loss.
Gambling addictions go hand-in-hand with other disorders
Gambling addictions often coincide with other disorders, many of which have been emphasized during the pandemic.
Whyte added, “On a psychological side, depression, loneliness, anxiety and social isolation are known contributors to gambling problems.”
This can result in a deadly combination.
Problem gamblers have a high rate of suicidal behavior. Roughly 20% of people with severe gambling problems have made a lethal attempt.
Helplines prioritize a caller’s level of distress accordingly.
“The first thing a problem gambling call center is going to do is say ‘Where are you? What are you feeling right now?’ Once you get through that assessment, they’re going to ask some basic screening questions to help determine gambling history and prior substance abuse. After that, if you do have a gambling problem, they’re going to try to connect you to services in your area. These services may range from website referrals to Gamblers Anonymous. They might refer family members to Gam Anon, offer to send you resources through the mail, or connect you with a clinic.”
It is more important than ever for Tennesseans to know what problem gambling services are available to them.
The National Problem Gambling Hotline can be reached by call or text at 1-800-522-4700.
Operators at the Tennessee REDLINE can be contacted by call or text at 1-800-889-9789.
Self-exclusion programs are also available through each sportsbook, providing Tennesseans with an additional means of gambling addiction protection. For a list of available responsible gambling programs, click here.