Problem gambling resources are key with betting popularity

Aug. 13—Sports betting has gained traction locally in the past few years, with legislation being proposed in Missouri last year and a new bill legalizing it in Kansas taking effect in July.

But with increased accessibility comes a greater emphasis on gambling addiction.

Gambling can become a crutch after people experience personal loss, setting it apart from substance abuse that often arises from past trauma, said Martha Green, director of the Family Guidance Center's substance use disorder program.

"Most people that start out gambling, it's usually something they do for fun or after a significant loss, like the loss of a spouse," she said. "They go and ... the noise at the casino and they're not alone, you know, there is that pull."

Sports betting in Kansas includes several restrictions to reduce the number of issues arising from gambling addiction. Gaming facilities can't provide a line of credit to bettors, have to provide resources for "responsible decisions" and compulsive gambling assistance and there are limits on how long and how much money a person can spend betting, according to Kansas Senate Bill 84.

The bill also requires that 2% of annual revenue be used to fund a helpline for research and treatment of pathological gambling and for treating "alcoholism, drug abuse, and other addictive or co-occurring behavioral health disorders."

The bill was unlikely to pass without those inclusions, and they should help prevent gambling dependency from becoming a bigger issue in Kansas, Kansas Rep. John Eplee, R-Atchison, said.

"We're going to have to see what happened to our problem gambling numbers as we look at them, to the mental health folks, and see if we've created, again, a real mental health crisis because of this," he said. "But I would certainly think that's unlikely. And because there's so many people that go out of state to place these bets, I think we're going to be keeping a lot of that income right here in Kansas."

Having access to resources like 1-800-BETSOFF or publicly posted visuals promoting assistance options provides an integral service for bettors.

"It's very important so they'll know that, so people know that there is help available out there, even if they just have questions," Green said. "Even if you think, 'Well, do I have a problem,' you know, 'What should I be looking for?' just being able to have that resource available."

Those provisions only grow in importance with the popularity of betting.

Breaking away from a dependency is a tricky prospect where trying to go cold turkey is more plausible than people weaning themselves off it, Green said.

"It's like saying, 'Well, I don't play the casino, I'm just going to do scratch-offs,'" she said. "You know how much money people (spend)? I've been in a convenience store and the guy in front of me spent $150 on scratch-off tickets."

Despite the questions around problem gambling, Eplee said he expects sports betting to be legalized eventually across the U.S., even though it currently is legal in only about half of the states.

"I think it's only a matter of time and they will have some type of sports wagering," he said. "This has been driven by what's happening nationally and it's viewed by the fact that it is felt there's a lot more opportunity than there is downside."

Alex Simone can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @NPNOWSimone.