While Mardi Gras entices Louisianans to celebrate its boisterous joys at the top of March, a lesser-known national event goes all month long in hopes of decreasing problem gambling in the state.
March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. And with the advent of legal sports betting, some Louisianans may develop gambling problems or see existing issues worsen. Is it coincidental that the Louisiana Association of Compulsive Gambling’s Problem Gambling Helpline takes significantly more calls in March than at any other time?
According to the National Council for Problem Gambling, this year’s campaign is Awareness + Action. Notably, its goals are to increase public awareness of problem gambling and promote the availability of prevention, treatment, & recovery services. Additionally, the NCPG encourages healthcare providers to screen clients for problem gambling.
What is problem gambling?
In 2021, an article published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health clarified that “Problem gambling is a gambling disorder often described as continued gambling in the face of increasing losses.” Problem gamblers “feel better when they gamble,” the article explains.
The DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, classifies problem gambling as an addictive disorder in which gambling activates the brain’s reward mechanisms. This response is similar to substance addiction.
Harry Levant is a public health advocate and recovering gambling addict with Stop Predatory Gaming. He calls legal sports betting a public health crisis. He likens the influx of sports betting advertising to the tobacco industry’s old ads promoting smoking and warns of the risk of suicide with problem gambling.
Janet Miller, Executive Director of the LACG expressed her concerns back in December. This was before mobile sports betting launched in the state but when some retail and tribal casinos had already been offering sports betting for about a month. In an interview with the Monroe News-Star, she noted that her organization’s helpline takes calls from other states as well as Louisiana. And unsurprisingly, every time another state legalizes sports betting, those calls increase. The LACG has also noticed a troubling rise in calls from younger gamblers, many males.
“Now gambling is on every play,” Levant has said. “Keep them gambling, keep them chasing action.”
Trouble ahead: Warning Signs
As Alan M. Feldman, Distinguished Fellow on Responsible Gaming, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said:
“One does not become a problem gambler immediately … It happens over time.”
The Louisiana Study of Problem Gambling conducted a study in 2021, about five years before legalized sports betting started. They determined that about 6% of Louisianans had a gambling disorder. And that number doubled from 2008.
Similarly, the National Center for Responsible Gaming estimates about 1% of the US population has a severe problem with gambling. And another 2-3% may meet the criteria for mild or moderate problem gambling.
According to Miller, some of the warning signs of problem gambling include:
- Not paying bills
- Accumulating high levels of debt
- Personality changes
- The experience has stopped being fun
Additional warning signs put forth by the Louisiana Lottery include:
- Jeopardizing a job or significant relationship by gambling
- Lying to hide time or money involved in pursuing gambling
- Exaggerating wins and minimizing losses
- Being preoccupied with gambling
Miller noted that the line between problem gambling and a full-blown gambling disorder might occur when a person who wants to change cannot, even with intervention.
“When people start talking like they’re gonna make money doing this, then that could be a red flag for me if they start talking, that they control the outcomes,” Miller said.
Leesville and the Lottery lay it out
Rick Allen, Leesville Mayor, signed a proclamation declaring March as “Problem Gambling Awareness Month.” He also called problem gambling “a public health concern,” affecting people of “all ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds.”
Nonetheless, Louisiana Lottery President Rose Hudson has said the lottery “remains committed to keeping our games fun and entertaining by stressing the importance of playing responsibly and promoting the state’s resources for those who may have a gambling problem.”
The Louisiana Lottery has laid out some of the essentials of responsible gambling, including:
- Gambling only for fun
- Setting a dollar limit and sticking to it
- Never borrowing money to gamble
- Don’t gamble to win back losses
The lottery is allotted one sports betting skin. The first $500,000 generated by the Lottery every year goes to funding assistance for problem gambling.
Louisiana problem gambling: help is available
The American Psychiatric Association has found that only 1 in 10 people with a gambling disorder seeks treatment.
Although problem gambling, and its most extreme form, gambling disorder, can prove “fairly hopeless” to sufferers, Miller has said that her organization and the state have “great programs” to help and “give them hope.” For example, Shreveport’s Center for Recovery (CORE) offers inpatient treatment by certified professionals.
Many Louisiana problem gambling resources and treatment options are funded by the state, and free to Louisiana residents.
Both the Louisiana Lottery and the state’s Office of Behavioral Health’s Addictive Disorders Services websites provide confidential information about responsible gambling and resources to help those who may have a problem.