For most people who gamble, whether it’s sports betting, slot machines, or something else, the games are a form of entertainment. That’s for the vast majority — but not for all.
Some individuals experience gambling addiction that can result in devastating consequences to their health, finances, family life, careers, and more.
In the process of authorizing online/mobile sports betting in Tennessee to go live late in 2020 — expanding legalized gambling beyond the state lottery for the first time — lawmakers and regulators have acknowledged some of the potential pitfalls.
We explain here how the provisions of the Tennessee Sports Gaming Act of 2019 and its subsequent regulations attempt to address problem gambling issues, and what resources exist in the state currently in that regard.
Tennessee Sports Gaming Act funding
An amendment inserted in the law before its legislative approval in April 2019 ensured that 5% of state revenue from the online/mobile operators will go to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
The department is to use the funds “to oversee one or more grant programs with organizations to provide treatment services for individuals with problem gambling or a gambling disorder, and to establish prevention initiatives to reduce the number of individuals with problem gambling or a gambling disorder.”
A fiscal analysis of the law when it was passed estimated that online/mobile sports betting could generate $250 million in overall revenue. The state has a 20% tax rate, meaning that if the analysis proves correct Tennessee’s share of sports bettors’ losses would amount potentially to $50 million a year, most of which is to be used for educational programs. The 5% allocation to combat problem gambling suggests that $2.5 million annually in new funding could be dedicated to that purpose.
Tennessee Sports Gaming Act regulations
The rules approved by the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation board April 15, 2020, to cover future sports betting operator licensees require that they submit a “responsible gambling plan” as part of their application. Those plans must address responsible gambling issues in multiple ways.
While some states’ regulators maintain comprehensive lists of gamblers who have voluntarily signed up to be excluded from gaming sites for their own good, the TELC board is calling upon the operators to oversee such lists themselves and share them.
The betting sites they present to the public must contain the ability for a customer to make a self-exclusion request, leading to a block on his or her future access to the site. Information identifying the individual is to be shared with other licensees and the TELC. The licensees are to maintain their own self-exclusion lists and make monthly reports to the TELC providing an overview of them.
As has become common in other states with online/mobile gaming, the operators are to provide bettors access to controls over how much money they risk and how much time they spend on sites, in addition to other potential limitations.
The sites are to make comprehensive information available to users about their wins and losses, time spent, extent of deposits, and other financial details.
Advertising and marketing
The operators’ sites and promotional materials are to provide information about responsible gambling that includes a TELC-approved helpline number that customers can call.
No advertising is to be aimed at an audience younger than 21, and that minimum age requirement for betting is to be made clear on the sites and in promotional materials.
Advertising by operators is not to be overly intense or frequent, according to the regulations, and should not “create a suggestion that the probabilities of winning or losing with Interactive Sports Wagering are different than those actually experienced.”
Existing state efforts
Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
The department is tasked with overseeing a Problem Gambling Treatment Services Program, among many disorders for which it has responsibility.
The department’s website says the program provides assessments, educational services and outpatient treatment for individuals and families in need of services related to problem gambling.
As part of that effort, it funds a 24/7 helpline called the Tennessee REDLINE, which provides information and referrals for anyone calling with a gambling problem.
Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Addiction Services
The REDLINE receiving calls about help with compulsive gambling or other types of addiction, at 800-889-9789, is managed by the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Addiction Services.
The private, statewide group has a website that includes a section on problem gambling. The site includes access to eight pamphlets or other publications on the topic that can be downloaded.
One is a 2007 report describing The Problem Gambling Initiative in Tennessee, which estimated the state at that time had 67,743 pathological gamblers who could not control their impulses and another 155,788 problem gamblers with a serious, but less severe, form of the disorder.
University of Memphis Gambling Clinic
The state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse website directs individuals seeking additional information and help to the Gambling Clinic at the University of Memphis.
On its own website, the clinic says it receives $180,000 annually from the state to treat individuals, educate consumers, train professionals, and develop tools to address excessive gambling behavior.
“We provide treatment, prevention and educational services to the Mid-South,” the clinic states. “Since 1997 we have helped hundreds of individuals gain control of their gambling. Our work is based on comprehensive research performed by our clinic and by research teams from around the world.”
Among other information on the clinic’s site is a screening tool to help determine if someone has a true gambling problem.
Resources for gambling problem help in Tennessee
- State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services: A section of its website is devoted to problem gambling.
- Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug and other Addiction Services: Information is available from the problem gambling section of its website, or calling its 24-hour helpline at 800-889-9789.
- University of Memphis Gambling Clinic: Information is available from its website, or it can be reached by phone at 901-678-STOP, or emailed at [email protected]
- Gamblers Anonymous: Information on problem gambling help, including where to find local support group meetings in your area, is available on its national website.
- National Council on Problem Gambling: A leader in advocacy for funding and programs to address gambling addiction, the NCPG does not list a Tennessee affiliate on its website, but the site provides voluminous guidance relating to gambling problems.