The Day – The scale of the increase in calls to the problem gambling ‘helpline’ surprised many
Virtually everyone expected the advent of online casino gambling and sports betting in Connecticut to cause an increase in calls to the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling’s “hotline,” which advises callers, often referring them to state-run treatment programs.
Now, few would describe what unfolded as a “slight uptick,” suggesting a slow, gradual uptick.
“I didn’t think it would grow that fast,” Diana Goode, the council’s executive director, said in a phone interview. “Normally it takes a problem player a while to hit rock bottom and raise their hand. I thought we’d have six months to a year to sort things out, but people lose everything in a weekend. The speed with which people lose all their money was shocking to me.
Goode made news last month when she publicly described the increased volume of phone support calls since October, the month when southeast Connecticut casinos – Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun – and Connecticut Lottery Corp. launched new forms of gambling that the legislature had approved a few months before.
At a January 24 news forum, Goode told the Legislature Public Safety Committee that the number of calls to the hotline had quadrupled. In November, they were up 87% compared to the same month of the previous year. Since then, the year-over-year increases have grown every month.
According to the council, from October to January, calls increased by 122% compared to the same period a year ago.
In her testimony, Goode made sure not to dilute the seriousness of the dire situations the callers reported. She told the panel that she and the other two council employees handling the helpline traffic — the “calls” come in via text and internet chat as well as phone at (888) 789-7777 — heard some Monday mornings of people who had “lost everything” in sports betting the previous weekend.
That means the helpline could be busy next Monday, the day after the Super Bowl, Goode said.
“I made sure to raise a red flag,” she said of her Jan. 24 presentation. “I don’t want the legislature to come back to me a year from now and be like, ‘Why didn’t you tell us this was so bad?'”
Based on the phone calls she received, Goode said she feared “something really bad is going to happen” which is the suicide of a compulsive gambler.
Among those with mental health issues, problem gamblers have the highest suicide rate, she said.
Self-exclusion is not perfect
A caller, a father in his 60s, called about his 40-year-old son who maxed out his credit card while gambling online, then opened another account in his wife’s name and also maxed out his credit card. What kind of protections are available in such situations, the father wanted to know. The helpline offered advice and a referral to a Bettor’s Choice treatment program, of which there are 16 across the state. In eastern Connecticut, problem gambling services are available through United Community & Family Services in Norwich.
In another case, a male college student emptied his parents’ bank account while on a weekend gambling spree and, when his parents found out, told them it was a bank error. At that time, the student called the helpline.
A compulsive gambler who hadn’t gambled in over a year and thought he had self-excluded from gambling received a gambling promotion via email, signed up for an online account, and became addict.
In theory, the self-exclusion programs put in place by Foxwoods Resort Casino, Mohegan Sun and the state offer gambling addicts ironclad protection against their own urges. But in reality, Goode said, it’s unclear how effective they are.
“If you ask, a lot of people who sign up still play,” she said. “The bottom line is you just can’t win a jackpot.”
By signing one of the casino’s self-exclusion forms, a person bans themselves from that particular casino.
“The exclusion means that you cannot be employed by MPGE (Foxwoods) in any capacity and you cannot be at Foxwoods Resort Casino for any reason,” the self-request reads. exclusion from Foxwoods.
Similarly, Mohegan Sun’s form states that those who register for self-exclusion will be barred from Mohegan Sun premises, “including but not limited to all properties owned and managed by the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority d/b/a Mohegan Sun”.
A self-excluded person who returns to Mohegan Sun is subject to arrest for trespassing “and all jackpot winnings will be forfeited,” the form reads. Foxwoods says it will “make reasonable efforts” to deny a self-excluded person access to the casino, but “will not accept any responsibility” if a self-exclusive fails to meet the terms of the exclusion.
Casino officials recognize that some self-exclusion applicants may refrain from registering because they do not want to be completely banned from the casino. They may need to give up gambling, but still want to go to a show, restaurant, or basketball game.
Mohegan Sun offers self-exclusion for terms of one or five years or for life. A person who has self-excluded for one or five years must request in writing the lifting of his exclusion. Foxwoods offers a five-year ban that automatically lapses at the end of the fifth year, and a permanent ban.
In the case of a permanent ban, “You cannot be removed from the ban list under any circumstances,” says Foxwoods’ request form.
Jeff Hamilton, president and CEO of Mohegan Sun, said a person requesting lifetime self-exclusion from Mohegan Sun needs to meet with casino officials “and have a discussion.” Requests for shorter exclusions can be completed online.
A person who self-excludes from Mohegan Sun is not automatically excluded from the casino’s digital platforms, whether its casino gaming app or sports betting app, Hamilton said. This requires a separate process.
“We’re talking about changing it,” he said. “I think at some point we will have unity.”
“A huge trigger”
At the Jan. 24 forum, Goode told lawmakers that many people who signed self-exclusion forms before the October launch of online casino games and sportsbooks assumed they were automatically excluded from news. forms of gambling. Some learned that was not the case, she said, when they started receiving marketing materials touting the new bets.
“What you can do is create an account with individual providers (FanDuel in the case of Foxwoods, DraftKings in the case of Mohegan Sun and PlaySugarHouse in the case of the lottery) and exclude through their sports betting app” , Goode said. “But just setting up the app can be a huge trigger for a problematic gamer.”
Another misconception among some members of the public, Goode said, is that it is possible to self-exclude from a specific form of gambling, such as sports betting, which is not the case. She also said the casinos have not shared with the council the number of people on their self-exclusion lists, although she understands it is in the thousands.
Last December, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission announced that since 2015, when it launched its self-exclusion program as part of the opening of the Bay State’s first casino, more than 1,300 people have were listed there. The program offers exclusion for one, three and five years, as well as for life.
The commission said 53% of enrollees opted for a five-year term while 3% chose the lifetime option.
In Connecticut, 446 people have signed up for the state Department of Consumer Protection’s self-exclusion program, according to DCP spokeswoman Kaitlyn Krasselt. Individuals on the list are barred from all forms of internet gambling in the state.
Asked how it is enforced, Krasselt wrote in an email: “The self-exclusion list is shared with operators, who ensure that those on the list cannot create an account and that any existing account is deactivated. If someone was found to be gambling while on the self-exclusion list, they would lose their winnings.
Late Game Study
In addition to seeking more resources for the nonprofit council, Goode is advocating for the legislature to fund a so-called prevalence study that would unearth the impact of gambling on Connecticut residents, and the creation of a commission to oversee gambling in the state, a function now entrusted to the DCP.
Originally, the council wanted one study to be carried out before the new forms of gambling came into effect and another after online casino games and sports betting had been in place for some time. so that their impact can be measured. Now, Goode said, the council will settle for the “after” study.
In Massachusetts, which has yet to legalize sports betting, the legislature commissioned a study of residents’ gambling behaviors shortly after casinos were approved more than a decade ago. Over a six-year period that ended in 2019, a research team interviewed the same 3,000 people five times. The findings of the study, published in a 178-page report last year, recommended gambling prevention and treatment programs and provided policy guidelines.
“We will definitely introduce a bill regarding a study that is overdue,” said State Senator Cathy Osten, the Sprague Democrat who co-chairs the Connecticut Legislature Public Safety Committee. The two casino-owning tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans, have sworn to cooperate in such a study.
Goode also called on the tribes to provide more financial support to the council. She said an additional $300,000 – $150,000 from each tribe – would help the council market its helpline. The Gaming Expansion Bill passed last spring requires each tribe to contribute $500,000 to problem gambling programs, but does not specify where the funds should be directed.
Goode said gaming oversight in the state is now “too large and too important to be thrown on DCP.”
“I don’t think that will happen this year,” Osten said of any proposal to create a gaming commission. “I’m not sure DCP is okay with that. They did a decent job. We hired staff for them. I’m not interested in spending money just to spend money.
She noted that some provisions of the Gaming Expansion Bill have yet to be fully implemented. The lottery has yet to open the 15 licensed retail sports betting sites or introduce online sales of its raffle tickets.