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As gambling in Illinois grows, so do treatment options

Shane Cook, director of the gambling disorder program at the Gateway Foundation
NPR Illinois
Shane Cook, director of the gambling disorder program at the Gateway Foundation

Illinois gaming revenues climbed to an all-time high in fiscal year 2022, and a state report released last year showed vastly increased assessments for gambling disorders. The increased assessments were reported in the Illinois Department of Human Services‘ first report on gambling abuse, which was released last year.

According to the report, in Fiscal Year 2021, about 13,000 assessments were conducted by treatment providers, which was a 440% increase over the previous year. “The significant growth was followed by a 185% increase over the previous year in the number of individuals receiving gambling treatment," the report said.

"Overall, the study found that 68% of adult Illinoisans reported gambling in the past year, with the State lottery being the most popular form…Gambling at video gaming terminals and online sports betting showed significant growth over time.’’

Legal gambling access has boomed, especially since the state adopted a 2019 law that legalized sports betting, expanded the number of casinos, allowed gaming machines at racetracks, opened video gambling in restaurants, taverns, fraternal organizations, and truck stops.

According to the Human Services report, “3.8% of adult Illinoisans — approximately 383,000 people — are considered to have a gambling problem (and) an additional 7.7% — approximately 761,000 people — are at risk for developing a gambling problem.”

The department has a new campaign to raise awareness about recovery options available through Are You Really Winning?, 1-800-GAMBLER, or by texting "ILGamb" to 83342.

“Having messaging that can respond to the number of ads that we all see on tv if you're watching a sporting event or even any other program, you're likely to see some advertising about a casino or these online gambling apps for sports,’’ said Shane Cook, director of the Gateway Foundation’s gambling disorder program, which has operated online for the past three years.“

“As the number of individuals in need of gambling treatment services continues to rise, IDHS has made significant investments in gambling services, including $10 million budgeted for State Fiscal Year 23,'' according to the report – ordered in response to the gambling expansion legislation – Human Services “continues to work with gambling providers to expand outreach and awareness of the problems that gambling can cause, and to connect impacted people with the services that support recovery.“

Cook said, “The reality is, just like with substance use and substance abuse, it can really cut across any dynamic or any demographic,” he said. “It can affect anybody as young as teenage years, all the way into their later years in life.”

Cook said gambling disorder, unlike substance abuse, which may have physical manifestations, is a hidden malady. Signs of a problem gambler may include someone unexpectedly having financial difficulties, being moodier than usual at family gatherings and showing an elevated interest in otherwise unimportant sporting events.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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