Lack Of Awareness, Programs A Big Hurdle In MI For Those With Gambling Problems

Written By Drew Ellis on March 15, 2024 - Last Updated on March 19, 2024
Black and white image of a man sitting alone in a bare room, his face in his hands. The Problem Gambling Symposium found awareness and treatment options lacking in Michigan as gambling continues to expand online.

The 16th Annual Problem Gambling Symposium was held Wednesday in Novi. The event covered a wide array of topics related to problem gambling and responsible gambling.

But, throughout each of the topics, one central theme kept coming up – a lack of help for those who are struggling with their gambling.

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. And it appears that awareness still remains one of the biggest issues with responsible gambling in Michigan.

While gambling has been made readily available to those old enough to participate, the support for those showing signs of problem or addictive gambling is not.

Compared to similar addictions such as alcohol or substance abuse, problem gambling doesn’t get the same recognition or treatment options as these other problem labels currently have.

On Wednesday it was shown how this issue extends into our military and college campuses.

How problem gambling hits the military

The opening keynote speaker was Dave Yeager, an 11-year military veteran who is in recovery from problem gambling. He currently is a Military and Veteran Program Assistant for the Kindbridge Research Institute.

Yeager detailed his story of problem gambling at the Symposium.

His problem started when he was stationed in South Korea and discovered a conference room in a hotel that was full of slot machines.

Slot machines were put into US military bases in the 1980s as part of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Fund that supports activities for military members who are stationed overseas.

Dealing with the tension of being away from his family and in a hostile location, Yeager found gambling as a good distraction from his troubles.

“As I’m sitting there and I’m playing, the first thing I noticed is that my shoulders were starting to relax a little bit, and now I’m starting to relax. This is great,” Yeager said.

“Then I made probably the biggest mistake a budding disordered gambler can make and I won. I didn’t break the bank. I wasn’t thrown out of the place. But, it was enough money and enough of a win and enough excitement that in that moment, all of the stress, all of the pain, all of the suffering that I was feeling in that moment was gone. It was gone and it felt good.”

Soon Yeager found himself gambling frequently to void those anxieties he experienced when away from the slot machines. It would eventually lead him to borrow money from his subordinates and steal money from the military.

Yeager’s problem would lead him to be demoted from his position. But, the problem persisted even when he returned home from service.

His first marriage deteriorated and his gambling problem only worsened.

As he sought help from the military, they had no available treatment programs for problem gambling for active members.

It wasn’t until Yeager shifted to veteran status that he discovered a program existed that could help.

In 1972, the VA Gambling Treatment Program was established, but as Yeager noted, not many VA programs were aware it existed.

Yeager now spends his time helping promote the Louis Stokes VA Center in Cleveland, where the problem gambling program for veterans is now housed. Yeager found recovery through this program and is aiding other veterans who suffer from problem gambling.

He also hosts “Fall In,” a problem gambling podcast for military service members and veterans, helping spread the awareness of problem gambling in the military.

1 in 5 college students at risk for problem gambling

The evolution of online gambling in the state of Michigan has opened up concerns about problem gambling in youth.

Michigan State University briefly had a partnership with Caesars Sportsbook that ended prematurely last year over concerns from the public.

Still, gambling temptations are hard to avoid in this day and age with college-aged kids reliant on cellphones and technology.

In a 2023 survey of college students at a major Michigan university done by Gambling Research and Policy Initiative, 99% of those surveyed believed there was a gambling problem on campus.

However, 96% also said they have never received any kind of gambling education. On top of that, 95% said they had no awareness of a campus policy to aid in gambling issues.

That is an issue that Dr. Michelle Malkin, Director of Gambling Research and Policy Initiative, is addressing.

Malkin said regulating online gambling isn’t the issue as much as states not showing the same effort in raising awareness about problem gambling as they did with legalizing sports betting and iGaming.

“Legal and regulated is always better than illegal and unregulated,” Malkin said on Wednesday. “But, regulation comes with responsibility, and that responsibility in the legislature is to put money towards education, outreach, treatment, and research. Only a small fraction of our states are doing that, but no state has enough money for all four.”

The survey Malkin shared showed that over 22% of college students are at risk for problem gambling. That includes 42% of males.

Malkin noted that just 1 in 4 universities have policies in place to aid in problem gambling. While special training for student-athletes has begun to happen in recent years, Malkin notes that that still leaves out general students who experience the same gambling issues on campus.

Malkin said she would like to see colleges incorporate problem gambling awareness education into onboarding programs to help combat the issues college students are facing.

RG advocates pushing for GRIT Act

Currently there are no federal funds designed for gambling treatment. Conversely, there are funds that receive billions to combat alcohol and substance abuse problems.

That’s why the GRIT Act was introduced to federal lawmakers in January. It has support from the National Council on Problem Gambling.

The title stands for Gambling addiction Recovery, Investment and Treatment Act.

If it becomes law, it will set aside half of the federal sports excise tax revenue to fund programs for problem gambling prevention, treatment and research.

The federal government levies an excise tax of 0.25% on all money wagered on sports legally in the United States. Estimates have that tax receiving $250 million in revenue for 2023.

“The federal government gets to tax gambling winnings,” Malkin said. “The government at the federal level is making billions of dollars off gambling and putting zero of that back into education, outreach, treatment and research.”

Programs available in Michigan to treat problem gambling

Similar to what Yeager and other presenters expressed on Wednesday, one of the key issues in the treatment of problem gamblers is getting problem gambling recognized alongside other addictions.

The approach to treatment for problem gambling can be similar to that of alcohol or substance abuse.

Because of that, there are non-medical programs available for those seeking help for problem gambling.

  • Gamblers Anonymous: Established in 1957, GA takes a similar approach as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. That includes a 12-step program.
  • Celebrate Recovery: Established in the 1990s, a faith-based program that also touches on a 12-steps approach.
  • S.M.A.R.T. Recovery: Stands for Self Management And Recovery Training. It’s a non-12-step option that takes a cognitive and secular approach toward the problem.
  • Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist approach toward recovery that applies meditations and how to practice them in everyday situations. Open to those who don’t practice Buddhism.
  • Recovery Dharma: A similar Buddhist approach program that focuses on how to approach behavior. Open to those who don’t practice Buddhism.

Many of these programs offer online options for those uncomfortable with group settings.

Michigan offers a Responsible Gambling Hotline at 1-888-223-3044.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also offers a Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-270-7117.

The National Council on Problem Gambling has a myriad of resources for gamblers or friends and family of gamblers. The national organization also has a toll-free number, 1-800-GAMBLER, to assist in identifying emergency services.

If a friend or family member has a gambling problem, there are programs available for you as well to help cope with their battle.

  • SMART Recovery Friends & Family
  • CRAFT (Community Reinforcement And Family Training)
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is currently the Lead Writer of He was the former Lead Writer of PlayMichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

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