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Internet and sports betting legalization causing addiction worries

Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 7:10 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2021 at 8:17 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Compared to the national average, ‘problem gambling’ isn’t a huge issue in Michigan right now.

But the people who help gambling addicts are worried that’s about to change, as internet gambling and sports betting become legal in the state on Friday.

“I started drinking and gambling and hustling the streets of Detroit and eventually it just got out of hand,” said Mike Mooney, a recovering gambling addict. Mooney is now a licensed psychologist and helps people who are battling the same problem.

“Legalized gambling is an entertaining way for the state of Michigan, to increase revenue, without raising taxes on the masses,” Mooney says.

A little more than two weeks from Super Bowl Sunday, Michigan will start allowing people to make legal bets from their living room couch. Mooney says that’s dangerously easy, especially during the pandemic.

“Covid--as a problem gambling treatment provider--we have seen a steady increase in new online gamblers more than say, a year ago or two years ago.”

“We have gambling for one reason, the biggest reason today is because of the virus. It just has wiped out all forms of income for the state and everybody else,” says Michael Burke, executive director of the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling. “It seemed to be an easy market, and it’s going to prove to be that.”

Burke says gambling took everything away from him, including his law practice. 20 years later, he’s working with the MAPG. The MAPG does not have a uniform stance on whether gambling should be legal or not.

According to Wallethub, the state of Michigan in better shape than the rest of the country--Michigan ranks 44th out of 50 in gambling addictions. But, experts are concerned that the number is going to head in the wrong direction.

“We’ve learned, the more gambling venues, the more problem gamblers,” Burke says.

“My concern is that we’re going to, maybe, double the size of problem gamblers here in Michigan,” Mooney adds.

The state will be putting money into treatment for people who develop gambling problems.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also offers a free 24-hour helpline. The number is 1-800-270-7117

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