Shine the Light on Problem Gambling: Changing the Game
Gambling disorder is often referred to as the “hidden illness,” because there are no physical or visual symptoms, making it harder to identify than chemically based addictions, and also leaving those affected suffering alone, in silence, and reluctant to seek help.
It’s more important now than ever to support Problem Gambling Awareness Month during March! Gambling addiction does not discriminate; it can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender, profession, or social status. For every problem gambler, 8-10 other people are also negatively affected. Currently there are as many as 6-9 million people in the U.S. suffering with a gambling disorder, and hundreds of thousands of people either directly or indirectly affected right here in Florida. These individuals are no longer strangers; they are our neighbors, our friends, and our family members.
Who We Are
For more than three decades, the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG) has been providing diverse and widespread supports to individuals, families and others negatively impacted by a gambling problem, as well as to individuals and institutions servicing these populations in their quests to find help.
A cornerstone of the organization’s operation has been the development and implementation of its 24-hour anonymous, confidential and multilingual information and crisis Problem Gambling HelpLine service, 888-ADMIT-IT, which provides information, supportive intervention, treatment referrals, resources, and a breadth of related supports, pending presenting circumstances (e.g. financial, legal, etc.) 24 hours per day, 365 days of the year. The HelpLine, which provides a multitude of immediate services and ways for callers to obtain additional help, can be accessed via the widely publicized toll-free telephone HelpLine number (1-888-ADMIT-IT (236-4848)), the agency’s website (www.gamblinghelp.org), by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), through a mobile app, or via text message (321-978-0555). The FCCG HelpLine is advertised in gaming facilities throughout the State, has its telephone number on lottery tickets. Is advertised on several billboards in key locations, is easily accessible through multiple search engines, and is featured on social media via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, and Linkedin to assure that regardless of one’s comfort level in connecting, individuals can access the help needed.
Given the organization’s unique mission, which is to increase public awareness about problem and compulsive gambling and advocate for services and supports for individuals in need of assistance, it has served as a statewide problem gambling clearinghouse. More specifically, while the FCCG has provided problem gambling awareness, prevention, education and training services since its inception, the need for ongoing development and implementation of new and diverse supports has placed the organization in the forefront as an essential service to Floridians.
This has never been more important ever before than it is currently, given the unforeseen crisis from the pandemic and related circumstances occurring in 2020. As such, government, industry, academia, health care and other community-based servicing organizations and professionals have come to rely upon the FCCG to provide the necessary help and support to those struggling from the negative effects associated with excessive gambling. The FCCG also provides expert training for mental health treatment providers and others, to assure gamblers and those adversely affected can obtain the help needed to recover and resume a healthier way of life.
In light of marketplace changes and conditions, the approval of additional gambling operations, the increased availability of Internet gambling, and other technological shifts over the past 30 years, the FCCG has been conducting ongoing evaluations of its HelpLine service to assure it is continuing to meet its intended need while at the same time identifying any areas requiring attention or supports. It is important to keep in mind that supports offered by the FCCG are comprehensive in scope when considering how gambling problems impact individuals, families, communities, and society at large. As a one-stop clearinghouse, the organization further serves as an educational body, assuring necessary research, outreach, prevention, education and training services.
Of special note this year were the COVID-19 related closures most land based gambling venues experienced, along with sporting event cancellations that occurred between March and June 2020. However, as problem gamblers often do not stop gambling when their primary form of wagering is unavailable, many have identified other forms to fulfill their betting cravings. Moreover, as gambling operators sought to adapt to the changing situation with new advertising tactics and opportunities to bet, those in recovery for problem gambling faced increasing temptations to wager money and fall back into unhealthy gambling habits, presenting a risk of relapse. At the same time, those who may not have had a gambling problem before, may have been more likely to choose betting as a psychological escape to the stressors or a relief for boredom brought about by the pandemic, putting them at risk for developing an addiction (Fineman, 2020; Pfefferbaum & North, 2020; Price, 2020; Whyte, 2020). This, coupled with less exposure to the HelpLine from signage required at regulated gambling venues, resulted in fewer calls to the HelpLine this year, and more difficulty ascertaining responses from callers who initially agreed to be contacted.
Research has shown that social isolation, anxiety, stress, and depression are all associated with higher rates of gambling problems, and current COVID-19 closures and quarantines only exacerbate these issues. Recent financial related impacts from job loss, furloughs, and lost income also may lead to more gambling of all types in hopes of winning money just to survive. Stimulus checks when received, may also be viewed as an unexpected “big win” for at-risk and problem or recovering gamblers. Problem gamblers are also less likely to have health, social, financial, and recovery capital resources, which makes them less likely than others to recover from a pandemic crisis.
The risk for relapse currently remains high right now, especially for those in early recovery, many of whom are being bombarded by ads for online gambling. Increased gambling advertising occurring in Florida, such as daily emails, may adversely impact those at-risk for developing a problem, as well as those already in recovery.
Nationally, there have been reported increases in online gambling as many gamblers shift from casino or other gambling types to online gambling and social casino or gambling sites (Price, 2020; Whyte, 2020). This has been a problem in Florida, where some racetracks are advertising online gambling sites, which is not legal in the state. They are also not required to adhere to necessary requirements for HelpLine posting, resulting in a significant reduction of calls to the HelpLine in the last quarter, as many gamblers have shifted their primary forms of gambling to an alternative venue.
For more information, please visit www.gamblinghelp.org.
888-ADMIT-IT Recovery Path HelpLine Referral Resource Program
As the statewide clearinghouse for problem gambling specific resources, through its 888-ADMIT-IT Recovery Path HelpLine Referral Resource Program, the FCCG furnishes immediate programs, services, and referral resources for mental health, legal, financial, and other supports for problem gamblers and their loved ones, as well as to professionals serving this population.
Available resources include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Professional Counseling Referrals with Gambling Addiction Certified Mental Health Treatment Providers
- Self-Help and Alternative Support Group Supports (i.e. Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon)
- Peer Connect Program Supports
- Social Services and Other Emergency Supports
- Financial Assistance and Budgeting Tools & Programs
- Legal Assistance and Resources
- Self-Exclusion Programs (including landbased gambling facilities and online webblocking software/tools)
- Impaired Professionals Resources
- Population-Specific Recovery Workbooks & Literature
The 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine is an ever-evolving resource for Floridians. The FCCG takes information from data collected and supplied by contacts to assist in the development of programs and additional services in future years. Additional data sets are added to or removed from the database based on feedback from people contacting the HelpLine. Further, comparing previous-year reports shows significant trends and changes in the landscape of Florida’s gambling environment and associated problem gambling impacts.
This year in particular, the FCCG moved to expand and adapt its resource database in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, in order to continue serving those suffering from gambling addiction when traditional access to supports waned.
Addressing Problem Gambling Concerns in Current and Future Gambling Legislation
Since 1988, the year of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling’s inception, the organization has maintained a neutral stance on legalized gambling.
It is important that any expansion of gambling in the State includes an evaluation of potential impacts, both positive and otherwise, to assure that prior to any such consideration, government first determines how it will fund gambling addiction treatment, research, and associated programming and outreach, including additional provisions for the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine. Furthermore, it is important that consumer protections are in place to protect vulnerable populations and prevent harms that may arise from any type of gambling expansion, be it additional game offerings from current operators, new gambling locations or venues, new modes of play, etc.
The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling looks forward to the continued opportunity to work with the Florida Legislature, the Florida Department of Lottery, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), and others, in comprehensively addressing problem gambling related concerns regarding any current or future gambling legislation in the state of Florida. We believe such dialogues would result in significant benefits that would serve in both the short and long-term best interests of Florida citizens.
At this time, we are urging you to provide information on your website or social media sites, in legislative and community newsletters, and/or through any other means available, to assure your constituents are aware that March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month and that confidential, multilingual, population-specific problem gambling resources are available 24/7 through the FCCG’s 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine. Download our informational flyers below.