The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is reporting a spike in calls coming into the state’s gambling helpline that coincides with the legalization of online gambling and sports betting.
Between January and March, the helpline received 1,157 calls, as opposed to the 667 calls that came in during the same period last year.
“I’m the one who assist the gamblers who call our 800-270-7111 helpline number,” said Michael Mooney, a certified therapist at the state’s Gambling Disorder Program.
Mooney works closely with people who believe they may have a gambling addiction. He said the department doesn’t only get calls from those who believe they’re addicted to gambling.
“They could be calling about getting gambling disorders from family members or someone they know. Or they could be calling for themselves,” said Alia Luca with the state’s Gambling Disorder program.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation legalizing online gambling and sports betting in 2019. It went into effect in January. Since then, Michigan online gambling platforms have made around $205 million and paid $36 million in taxes.
“Pretty much every time they run an ad, there’s one for one of the new online betting sites,” said Michelle Malkin, a doctoral candidate at Michigan State University who studies gambling problems.
Malkin said she thinks more and more people are calling the helpline because gambling is more accessible now that it’s legal online.
“They think that maybe they’ll just gamble a little bit, whether it be on traditional type games or on sports, and then they realize they spent all their money that they didn’t really have and then they need to figure out what to do next.” Malkin said.
Officials with the state’s gambling disorder program believe online gambling has contributed to the increase in calls coming to the helpline, but that it’s not the main reason. However, they do predict the numbers will go even higher
“I don’t anticipate a high call volume that’s connected to the online gambling until some real time has passed,” Lucas said.