Gambling addiction isn’t something that can be taken lightly.
During Responsible Gambling Awareness Month, advocates are highlighting the complexity of treating addiction.
Those same advocates believe there is no “silver bullet solution.”
“Every choice must reduce harm, not increase harm,” Jody Bechtold, CEO of the Better Institute said during Michigan’s 14th Annual Problem Gambling Symposium earlier this month.
It’s important for those looking for treatment to know all of the tools available to them.
The biggest step gambling addicts can voluntarily make is self-exclusion, which removes the option of gambling for the individual through legal documentation.
Self-Exclusion comes in two different forms – the Disassociated Persons List and Responsible Gambling Database.
The Disassociated Persons List applies to being physically banned from the three Detroit retail casinos. It does not apply to tribal owned properties.
It’s a voluntary legal agreement to prevent entry, access or collection of wins from those three casinos. After five years, a person can apply to come off that list.
When applying to the Responsible Gambling Database, you are self-excluding from online sportsbooks and casinos. This applies to all legal operators in Michigan.
Self-exclusion periods on the Responsible Gambling Database can last one year or five years. After that period ends, the applicant must reapply to stay on. Some states do offer lifetime bans, but Michigan is not currently among them.
“People need those other options, not just lifetime. But, I do think many people benefit from lifetime,” Bechtold said.
Putting oneself on self-exclusion lists is certainly a big step toward ending problem gambling. However, it doesn’t entirely take an individual out of the gambling environment.
While excluded persons won’t be able to gamble online, they still are subject to other temptations.
Blocking software adds another layer to treatment, by silencing that surrounding noise.
Products like Gamban, gamblock and betblocker are blocking software that will do just that.
Gamban is a product that has had a lot of success in Britain. It blocks access to online gambling across all digital devices. That includes:
It also restricts access to regulated and unregulated products globally. Gamban adds the blocking of other gambling and gaming forms like:
- Social Casinos
- Non-Fungible Tokens
- Gambling Affiliates
- Trading Platforms
- Esports Platforms
Another option that is still in its infancy stage in Michigan is inpatient therapy.
While a wide variety of outpatient therapy options exist, advocates believe there needs to be a large increase in inpatient treatment options.
“We have to start opening more inpatient treatment centers. You know, we’ve got the money, the money is there, let’s open inpatient programs,” said Michael Burke, Executive Director of the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling.
Burke also stresses that these programs need to be available at no cost.
“Programs must be free, because a gambler is only going to seek treatment in one or two cases. No. 1, they get caught by a spouse or a loved one. No. 2, they’ve gone through their last nickel and have nothing left,” Burke said. “If a gambler had money left for treatment, they would never go into treatment. They would spend it on the gambling. I believe it’s the most important thing that we can do.”
Mariners Inn in Detroit is one place currently offering inpatient services for gambling disorder treatment.
The program is available for adult males for up to 30 days and aims to reduce the problems of addiction to gambling and associated compulsive behavior by providing intensive residential substance abuse treatment.
Those interested in learning more about the program can contact Brittany Miles at [email protected] or 313-962-9446 x 233.
Overcoming the stigma
Of all the barriers that stand in the way of gambling addiction treatment, one large one remains the stigma behind individuals admitting they have a problem.
“We have to get people feeling comfortable about coming forward with a gambling problem; the stigma is massive,” Burke said.
According to Burke, just 1 in 10 compulsive gamblers admit they have a problem.
With the expansion of gambling availability, Burke believes that it’s important for drastic changes in treatment to match the speed at which online gaming is growing.
“We are today with gambling, where we were 50 years ago with substance abuse. And I can say that as somebody who was in the middle of a substance abuse problem 50 years ago,” Burke said. “We just have to catch up with the gambling. We have to educate people that it’s not just a weakness that they can’t control, it is an addiction, it’s a recognized addiction. It’s treatable, medically, we have to treat the gambler and the gambler’s family.”
Unlike those who suffer from substance abuse addictions and visually show the signs, a gambling addict can hide their struggles from others.
“We’ve got to become part of the conversation in addiction the same way that we talk about substance abuse. It shows up with drug use and alcohol use, but you don’t get that with gambling. There’s no outward manifestation of that,” Burke said. “So, if we don’t talk about it, and we don’t explain it to people, we’re just not going to get anywhere with treatment.”
If you or anyone you know needs help with their gambling-related issue, call the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-270-7117.