Michigan Gambling Helpline Calls Up One Year After Online Launch: What Does It Mean?

Written By Drew Ellis on February 14, 2022 - Last Updated on February 18, 2022
Woman taking call on helpline

The first year of online sports betting and online casinos provided a big revenue boost to Michigan. However, it also presented greater challenges for problem gamblers.

The expansion of the gambling and sports betting industry reached new audiences in the past year. While that led to more than $279 million in state taxes, there were new obstacles in the efforts to combat problem gambling.

Coming off one of the biggest sports betting days of the year in the Super Bowl, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services understands these new challenges and is making a push to provide help for anyone in need throughout the state.

As the numbers grow, here’s what the MDHHS has planned to continue to provide options for those struggling with problem gambling.

Helpline calls nearly triple, but what does it mean?

Since online casinos and sports betting were launched in January of 2021, gambling-related helpline calls have nearly tripled in total.

According to data from the MDHHS, calls to The Michigan Problem Gambling Helpline (1-800-270-7117) increased from 1,588 in 2020 to 4,463 in 2021.

As PlayMichigan noted last May, not all calls mean a caller is having a “problem gambling” issue. Alia Lucas, a gambling disorder prevention and treatment program specialist for the MDHHS, says that all it indicates at this time is there is a growing interest in gambling within the state.

“I still think we’re going to need a little more time before we’re able to definitively say that the increase in calls to the helpline has been impacted by the introduction of new avenues to gambling,” Lucas said. “Right now, we’re getting more calls but some of those calls, a lot of those calls, are with inquiry or asking questions about the online gambling platforms. So, what we know definitively is there’s definitely an increased interest. We still treat each and every call that comes to the helpline that someone could potentially need gambling disorder information and making sure they have that information available to them, should they need services for or help with treatment in the future.”

Consider this: The number of Gambling Disorder Treatment Referrals from the MDHHS grew from 295 in 2020 to 420 in 2021. That’s a 70% increase year-to-year. However, that means only 9.4% of total calls resulted in a referral, compared to 18.6% in 2020.

During 2021, the peak for helpline calls was 496 in February, the first full month that online sports betting and casinos were legal. Referrals peaked in March, with 51.

Helpline calls saw a spike again at the end of the year, with 455 in November and 460 in December. Those two totals were only behind last February.

MDHHS planning over $1 million for responsible gambling

The Michigan Problem Gambling Helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by phone or virtually. Trained and experienced counselors provide immediate help to address issues related to gambling disorders.

As required by law, the hotline is now everywhere, including all those TV commercials you see and on the platforms themselves.

“We’re not anti-gambling. We’re not saying, ‘don’t gamble,’ because there’s a way to gamble responsibly and it’s a fun recreational activity that’s accepted nationwide. There’s a ton of individuals who can gamble and have no problems at all,” Lucas said. “We’re just trying to make sure that individuals are aware of when to recognize that your gambling activity may possibly be problematic, that there are services available to you. Should that be the case, being able to provide you on how you go about obtaining those services, if you need.”

The MDHHS is putting forth $1.4 million for the 2022 fiscal year (Oct. 2021-Sept. 2022) toward promoting responsible gambling in advertisements. Part of that funding comes from the $1 million ($500,000 apiece from sports betting and internet gaming) in tax money that was earmarked specifically toward problem gambling from the state’s expanded gambling laws.

Included in the plans:

  • To urge people with a gambling problem and family of problem gamblers to call the helpline or visit the website, Michigan.gov/ProblemGambling, for more information.
  • Educate gamers and parents about how online gambling can evolve into a gambling problem.
  • Encourage people with a gambling problem to attend Michigan’s 14th Annual Virtual Gambling Disorder Symposium on March 3 and 4.

The MDHHS also provides a list of 36 problem gambling treatment providers that are available, along with their methods of treatment.

How to know if you are a compulsive gambler?

Along with the information provided by the MDHHS, Gamblers Anonymous provides 20 questions to help determine if you are a problem gambler.

  1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?
  2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?
  3. Did gambling affect your reputation?
  4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?
  5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
  6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
  7. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
  8. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?
  9. Did you often gamble until all your money was gone?
  10.  Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?
  11.  Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?
  12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures?
  13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
  14. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?
  15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom, loneliness, grief or loss?
  16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?
  17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
  18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?
  19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?
  20. Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

First year provides over $1 billion in revenue in 2021

Michigan online casinos and poker rooms generated $1.1 billion in gross revenue in its first full year of operation.

That revenue also generated $279.3 million in Michigan state taxes.

When it comes to sports betting, Michigan had $3.97 billion in online and retail wagers in 2021. In terms of gross revenue, sports betting generated $319.5 million for the year.

Strictly online sports betting wagers accounted for $3.7 billion of the sum and $292.2 million in revenue.

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.

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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is currently the Lead Writer of PlayILottery.com. 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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