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With sports betting legalized, counselors worry Kansas is unprepared for problem gambling increase

Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar
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flickr, Creative Commons

People who work with problem gamblers say more money needs to be allocated to treat gambling addictions. 

The legalization of sports betting was widely celebrated this September, with Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly placing a $15 bet on the Chiefs.

But some counselors who treat problem gambling worry that sports betting could lead to an increase in addiction — and they say that Kansas isn’t allocating enough resources to handle it.

“Today, I had to work in a client who was referred by the problem gambling help line who's gotten themselves into a lot of debt due to sports betting,” said Stephenie Roberts, a certified gambling counselor in Wichita. “And I’m just worried that we’re going to see an increase in these numbers of calls now because of the easy accessibility that online gambling has for folks.”

The state dedicates 2% of all money generated from gambling to its Problem Gambling and Addictions Grant Fund. The issue, advocates say, is that not all of that money goes to problem gambling services, such as advertising the problem gambling hotline.

Since 2013, 7 percent of the fund on average has gone to problem gambling services, according to the Kansas Legislative Research Department. That’s an average of about $600,000.

Kansas’ investment is comparable — if not larger than — the amount neighboring states put toward problem gambling services. Oklahoma spends $250,000 a year on assisting with gambling addiction treatment. Colorado allocates about $130,000 a year for its problem gambling hotline and problem gambling services.

Arkansas is mandated to spend $200,000 a year for gambling disorder and treatment programs but was sued last year for failing to do so.

Cara Sloan-Ramos, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services, said the state is assessing budgetary needs for problem gambling resources.

“As part of our ongoing effort to emphasize the importance of providing resources to Kansans who may experience a gambling problem, KDADS is reviewing the program and its needs,” Sloan-Ramos wrote in an email to KMUW. “Once that review is complete, any recommendations for additional staff or marketing support will be made through the normal budgeting process for consideration during the next Legislative Session.”

Joyce Markham, president of the Kansas Coalition on Problem Gambling, said that more money is needed to fund a statewide advertising campaign for the problem gambling hotline. She said not enough people know it’s the first step to seek help.

“I bet you ask 10 people today where would you go if you had a problem with problem gambling, they’re probably not going to tell you they’re going to call the hotline and ask for help,” Markham said.

From July 2021 to June 2022, 156 people called the hotline to seek information or referral services to a treatment counselor, down from 225 the previous year.

Roberts also added that she wants the state to hire more problem gambling specialists, who help regions around the state provide problem gambling prevention and education services. Roberts said the state used to have four of these specialists and now has two.

Sloan-Ramos confirmed that two of the four problem gambling specialist positions were cut under a previous administration.

Though they have concerns about the total amount of money going to problem gambling services, both Markham and Roberts said the state provides enough funding for anyone to receive free problem gambling counseling.

“That is the good thing about the amount that does go in,” Roberts said. “Anybody who contacts us and gets connected to a certified gambling counselor is eligible for no out-of-pocket cost help.

“That’s very important because when you’ve gambled away your last dime and you’re in debt up to your neck, you can’t afford counseling.”

Copyright 2022 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Celia Hack