LANSING, Mich. — It's been one year since Michigan legalized online betting and although it's too early to definitively correlate the two, the state's problem gambling helpline saw nearly triple the number of calls in 2021 than the year before online gambling was approved.
This week, that data will be addressed by the state health department at an online event that hopes to help curb that increase.
“What we have noticed is that there has been an increase in the number of calls that are coming through the helpline and there have also been a slight increase to the number of treatment referrals we are receiving," said Alia Lucas, the program manager of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' gambling disorder program.
Lucas says it's important to note that it's only been a year and experts need more time to see if the data proves that legalizing online gambling has led to the increase in problem gambling. What we know now is that more than 4,400 calls were made to Michigan's helpline in 2021, nearly triple the number in 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't helped.
“It heightened the engagement of gambling for those that were already gambling, and it introduced it to others who might not have been gambling before," she said. We saw a first spike after COVID hit and the following year, then you had the introduction of online gambling so all of those things combined have set up the perfect storm."
When it comes to treatment, MDHHS has a helpline Michiganders can call if they want more information about help and referrals. Lucas says the department is also looking to increase its chat and text function to reach younger people who want help.
"We're also looking at changing our approach to who we target as our standard gambler," she said. "In times past, it might have been an individual between the ages of 21 and 49. We're now dialing back to a younger demographic only because we feel as though the younger demographic will be more inclined to access gambling online and on on a phone as opposed to an adult.”
This week, the Michigan Department of Health is hosting its 14th Annual Symposium on Problem Gambling, which runs Thursday and Friday.
If you or someone you love is struggling with gambling, you can reach out for help through the Michigan Gambling Helpline at (800) 270-7117.