Ky. gambling problem help-line calls have tripled since sports betting was legalized

Published 2:29 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Since sports betting became legal in Kentucky on Sept. 7, calls to the state problem-gambling hotline have nearly tripled, one of the state’s few problem-gambling counselors told June Leffler for KET’s “Kentucky Edition” Wednesday.

“Since December of ‘22 to ‘23, we’ve seen almost a thrfee-fold increase” in calls, said Lionel Phelps of River Valley Behavioral Health in Owensboro.

Owensboro has two certified gambling counselors, but the state as a whole has only seven.

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“There are none in Lexington, there’s none in Northern Kentucky, there’s none in Bowling Green, and there’s none in Paducah, but there’s gambling all over the state,” Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling Executive Director Mike Stone told Leffer. “It is as much a geographic concern as it is a numerical concern. There’s one counselor in Eastern Kentucky.”

When the General Assembly approved sports betting, it set up the state’s first problem-gambling fund, supplied by 2.5% of the state’s revenue from sports betting. That is projected to be about $1.2 million a year, but the money won’t be available “until well into 2024,” said Stone.

Meanwhile, Stone said he is using gaming-industry contributions to recruit and train more counselors “because we anticipate a wave of problem gambling surfacing in 2024, with the advent of the sports betting in the state.”

Sports betting is available online, and that aspect “is likely expanding how people bet,” Leffler reports. At the Super Bowl, the betting will start with the coin toss, said Ronsolyn Clark, a counselor at Boulware Mission, an Owensboro residential program for men with drug and alcohol problems.

Clark said addiction to gambling is similar to drug addiction, in which people with the disorder get a high from the brain’s release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that acts like a hormone. “The brain doesn’t see it really much differently” than drugs, “as far as the dopamine it releases” into the bloodstream, she said.

She said gambling disorder has the highest rate of suicide among all mental illnesses: “One in five individuals with a gambling problem will attempt or complete suicide.”

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 1% of U.S. adults have a gambling disorder, and 2-3% have a gambling problem, Leffler reports: “The consequences of problem gambling are arguably as devastating as those from a substance-use disorder.”

The state’s problem-gambling hotline is 1-800-GAMBLER, answered by people in Kentucky around the clock, Leffler reports.