New Tennessee Betting Regulator Wants To Help Problem Gamblers

The Tennessee Sports Wagering Advisory Council (SWAC) has come up with several priorities to act on once it assumes its role as the state’s sports betting regulator on Jan. 1, taking the reins from the lottery. One of those priorities – helping problem gamblers within the state – has become a focal point in recent meetings, especially now that the SWAC has checked off an important step in its list of priorities by approving a set of emergency rules

Of the tax revenue generated by Tennessee from sports betting, which launched in the state on Nov. 1, 2020, 5% goes to state-funded gambling addiction programs overseen by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The SWAC wants to ensure people in Tennessee who need help with a gambling addiction receive the treatment they need. 

“We take that very seriously,” SWAC committee member Samuel Lee told TN Bets

How the state helps problem gamblers

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services lists a pair of problem gambling programs on its websiteFirst, the organization offers a Problem Gambling Treatment Services Program, which “provides assessments, educational services, and outpatient treatment for individuals and families seeking services for problem gambling and gambling addictions.”

The second program is called the Problem Gambling Outreach, Education, and Referrals Program. This service focuses on increasing awareness about problem gambling and gambling addiction. It offers educational resources to those who need help, as well as their families. 

Both programs are available to people in Tennessee who reach out about their gambling problem.

“It’s like with any other type of treatment: The person has to be ready to want to engage,” Lee said. 

The SWAC’s goal is to be easily accessible to people who reach out about their gambling problems. Tennessee offers a 24-hour referral hotline that gives callers information about where they can go to seek further help. The hotline, known as the Tennessee REDLINE, also fields calls related to substance abuse. 

The hotline has been a discussion point at recent SWAC meetings for a few reasons, one of which is ensuring that the state has access to data from REDLINE calls and the treatment programs. The SWAC believes increased data about sports gambling addictions – such as providing a demographic breakdown of people who call the REDLINE – can help Tennessee better tailor treatment programs to help problem gamblers. 

There’s also a desire to make the hotline more efficient. At a recent SWAC meeting, a Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services representative shared that some clunky advertising led to hotline calls completely unrelated to gambling addiction.

In one example, the REDLINE number was listed in an advertisement near a separate advertisement for a pizza place, and people called the number hoping to order pizza. In another example, some sports bettors saw the number listed on sportsbook advertisements and called to complain about their bets or their sportsbook accounts, assuming the number would put them in touch with operators. 

A clear explanation of what the hotline number represents is a goal that the SWAC hopes operators can reach moving forward, limiting the number of unrelated calls directed to the Tennessee REDLINE.

SWAC focuses on preventative measures

Lee, the chief deputy district attorney general in Knox County, has experience overseeing the development of programs related to the opioid crisis, domestic abuse, and sexual abuse. He drew some parallels between those programs and the SWAC’s duties related to problem gambling.

Prevention, according to Lee, is critical. 

“We’re in the middle of an opioid crisis,” Lee said. “We’re in the middle of a mental health crisis, and what we’re trying to do now in those two areas is backtrack to figure out, ‘OK, where could we have stopped this?’” 

Sports betting is still relatively new to the state, and Lee hopes the SWAC can quickly gain an understanding of the best processes needed to help prevent problem gambling. According to a February news report, Tennessee REDLINE saw an 847% increase in calls related to gambling addiction between January 2020 and January 2021, with the number of calls rising once the state legalized sports wagering.

Focusing on prevention is particularly important, Lee suggests, given that all of Tennessee’s legal sports betting is mobile.

“What may appear innocuous when you’re using your phone and placing these bets could cause catastrophic results if you’ve got a mortgage to pay or if you’ve got a family that’s counting on your income, and somehow you punching these numbers in there translates into causing a big financial disaster in your household,” Lee said. 

While some of the exact preventative measures Tennessee may enact have yet to be determined, Lee and the SWAC understand the need to limit problem gambling in the state. It’s expected that there will be regular continued dialogue between the SWAC and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. For those who do develop dangerous gambling habits and addictions, the SWAC wants to make sure they have easy access to help through the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

“If there is one person that calls that we could try to reach and assist, then we want to make sure that we’re ready to do that,” Lee said.

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