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Big game, big worries? Gambling addiction grows with Illinois’ booming sports betting industry — ‘It’s in your face all the time’
The number of Illinoisans seeking help for problem gambling has almost doubled since legislators approved a massive gambling expansion in 2019. Experts expect that number to keep growing.
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A man who requested that he only be identified as Anthony stands by a window in a high-rise condo near Soldier Field on Friday. The Tinley Park man is a recovering sports gambling addict. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times.
Thousands of football fans will be placing their first legal Super Bowl bets in Illinois this weekend, and for most, a little action will make the big game just a bit more entertaining.
But, for some, it might open the door to regular betting, adding a quick dopamine hit to the regular season viewing experience. Maybe they’ll have to start budgeting for a new habit. Maybe they’ll have to start borrowing for it.
And, for a select few, it will get worse.
It’s already gotten worse for hundreds of people statewide since Illinois legislators approved a massive gaming expansion a year and a half ago, introducing legal sports wagering to a state that’s already packed with more places to gamble than Las Vegas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made matters even worse, according to Luke, a Chicago-area problem gambler who was able to get out of the game nine years ago. Economic uncertainty and the general malaise of the quarantine lifestyle make gambling all the more enticing.
“It used to be that there was a stigma, and gambling was taboo. It was seedy,” said Luke, who asked that his full name not be used. “Now, you can do it on your phone. The companies that are doing it are publicly traded Fortune 500 companies.”
A man who asked that he only be identified as Anthony reads news about the Super Bowl on his phone Friday. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times.
Calls to the state’s gambling disorder hotline more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, when 13,258 people reached out either there or online for information on a problem that experts say is out of sight but front of mind for a growing number of bettors and their families. The Illinois Department of Human Services, which aims to connect problem gamblers with counseling resources, calls that a “dramatic increase.”
In 2019, about 580 people received treatment for gambling disorders through state-sponsored programs across Illinois. That figure jumped past 1,000 in 2020, and experts say it doesn’t even cut the deck as only an estimated 3% of problem gamblers acknowledge they have a problem, and even fewer seek treatment.
Counseling gets boost with Illinois gambling expansion — but more addiction is sure to follow.
State’s all-in gambling expansion offers new temptation for those struggling to stay out.
Hundreds more took the more drastic step of banning themselves from casinos and the smartphone betting apps that have them hooked. About 13,500 people were enrolled in the self-exclusion program maintained by regulators at the Illinois Gaming Board in mid-2019, but that number has since shot past 14,000.
Many of those gamblers cite their temptations as coming from the state’s 10 casinos, three horse racing tracks and 7,233 bars, restaurants, gas stations and VFW halls that also house slot machines.
But since mobile sports betting launched last summer, Illinoisans can now gamble 24/7 from the comfort of home — and they’ve already lost more than $101 million doing so, according to Gaming Board revenue figures.
Blackhawks analyst Eddie Olczyk placed Illinois first legal sports bet in March 2019. Gamblers across the state have wagered more than $1.4 billion since then — and lost $101 million. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times.
As the billion-dollar industry keeps growing, addiction counselors say they’re hearing more and more from young people glued to the sports betting apps whose ads saturate Illinois airwaves and billboards.
“It’s in your face all the time,” said Dr. Teresa Garate of the Gateway Foundation, a network of 16 addiction treatment centers statewide. “It’s becoming a part of everyday life. Everyone accepts it, but it’s a serious trigger for some.”
That’s the case for Anthony, a 36-year-old recovering problem gambler from southwest suburban Tinley Park, who said he often finds himself changing the station as sports talk radio hosts dissect the latest betting lines.
“It’ll just be too much, it’s too close,” Anthony said. “Even though I don’t think it’ll lead me down there, I know better than to let my mind start thinking like that.”
Anthony reads his favorite passages from ‘A Day at a Time’ a book by Gamblers Anonymous. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times.
Elizabeth Thielen, a senior director at Nicasa Behavioral Health Services, said she’s seen yearly increases of people seeking help for gambling disorders across Chicago’s north suburbs, but a “real burst” of clients has sought them out in the past nine months.
“The ages we’re seeing are trending younger, and I think that’s directly related to sports betting,” Thielen said. “At the same time, I feel hopeful because you have young people showing a surprising level of insight to find help.”
Way Back Inn executive director Anita Pindiur is pictured outside the Maywood facility in 2019. Sun-Times file.
While there’s been an influx of new problem gamblers, the potential for relapse is an equal concern for Dr. Anita Pindiur, executive director of the Way Back Inn, a Maywood treatment center. About 10 former patients have already returned to the Way Back Inn for counseling this football season alone.
“Sometimes, we forget how quickly it can happen,” Pindiur said. “These things are advertised in a way that they’re fun and entertaining, and they should be. But often there is no set of limits or recognition of the limits until we get our credit-card bill, or somebody points it out.”
Illinois sports betting market could rival Nevada’s, analysts say.
Sports bettors have already wagered $1.4 billion since legal industry launched in Illinois.
COVID-19 puts new Illinois casino licenses on hold.
Besides financial ruin, experts say people who suffer from gambling addiction are more likely to suffer from substance abuse issues, turn to crime or even attempt suicide.
“I was losing everything,” said Patrick, a 35-year-old Niles man who’s 13 months removed from his last bet. “I’d have a paycheck on a Friday afternoon and it would be gone by Friday night. My relationships with my family and whoever I was dating, it just got out of control. I was lying, I was stealing, I was doing all these crazy things.”
As sports betting has been brought out of the shadows into everyday life, counselors say their challenge now is removing the stigma around seeking treatment for addiction — and they say they’re making progress through increased awareness. That’s been boosted with the help of $7 million set aside in the state’s gambling expansion law in grants for treatment centers, which have used a lot of that money to bolster advertising.
The Way Back Inn is one of only a handful of addiction treatment centers in Illinois that provide a gambling-specific program. Sun-Times file.
“One of the biggest barriers to treatment is stigma, especially for gambling,” said Garate, from the Gateway Foundation. “People don’t see it as a real addiction. It is, and help is out there.”
Just how many people need help is unclear. Experts generally estimate that between 2% and 5% of the population deal with gambling disorder, which would project to about 635,000 people across Illinois, including about 136,000 in Chicago.
TO GET HELP.
For more information on problem gambling support, call 1-800-GAMBLER or text “ILGAMB” to 53342.
But there’s been no comprehensive study of the problem in Illinois since 1999, well before video slots dotted the walls at thousands of establishments across the state and sportsbooks were accessible anywhere that had a cellphone signal.
“You have to believe those numbers are different now,” Thielen said.
The state Department of Human Services is out to find out just how much they’ve shifted with the onslaught of gambling options. The agency launched a $500,000 study last fall surveying treatment providers, problem gamblers and others to gauge the prevalence of addiction, especially among populations considered vulnerable or marginalized due to race, culture, economic or social disparity.
“We want to know what’s the challenge, and what should we look for,” said David Jones, who directs the department’s Substance Use Prevention and Recovery Division. “Then, you can start to bring more evidence-based solutions on a size consistent with the scale of the challenge.”


Sections.
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What do sports betting lines mean?
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If that sounds like you, we’re here to assist you. If you’ve stared at a board at a sportsbook or just seen spreads and moneylines on the Internet and been utterly confused, don’t worry. It’s not just you. Those numbers can be confounding.
But hopefully, once you’re done reading this, you’ll completely understand how they work. As you prepare to dive into the world of sports betting, here’s a breakdown of how the lines work, starting with …
Spreads.
It would be really easy to bet on a game if you could put money on a heavy favorite to win.
That’s where point spreads come in. Let’s look at an example:
In this case, you can bet on either two outcomes: you can put money on the Eagles to win the game by 4.5 points OR MORE, which makes them the favorites. Or you can bet that the Giants will either win or lose by LESS THAN 4.5 points. They’re the underdogs.
Now, sometimes the spread “moves” during the days leading up to the game. Perhaps the Eagles’ spread ends up being -3.5 (in which they must win by 3.5 points or more to give you a victory in your bet). Your bet all depends on whichever spread you bet on, whether it was when the Eagles were favored by 4.5 or 3.5 points.
If you ever see “PK” or “pick” next to a team, it means there’s no spread and you can bet on who will win, no matter what the score is.
Moneylines.
Let’s take that same example above but use moneylines:
The team with a minus symbol is the favorite, and the number is how much money you would need to bet to win $100. In this case, you would have to bet $200 on the Eagles in order to win an additional $100.
Note that you can bet any amount you want, but those numbers are always calculated and posted the same way, either in how much money you would need to wager to win $100 or how much money you could win by wagering $100.
If you’re betting on something like the team who will win the Super Bowl in the future, you might see it look like this:
New England Patriots — 3/1 Baltimore Ravens — 5/1 Kansas City Chiefs — 8/1.
If you were betting on the Patriots and their 3/1 odds, you would win $3 for every $1 you spend. So if you bet $50 on the Pats and they ended up winning the Super Bowl, you’d win $150 (plus your original wager) back.


Michigan launches online sports betting, casino games Friday.
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Online sports betting and casino games will start in Michigan at noon Friday, an expansion of options for gamblers who now wager through offshore sites.
State regulators have authorized licenses for all three Detroit casinos and seven of the dozen tribes with “Class III” casinos. Additional operator and platform provider licenses are expected to be approved in coming weeks.
Michigan Gaming Control Board Executive Director Richard Kalm this week called the launch a “new era,” saying it will give casinos an additional way to engage with customers and provide state and local governments with extra tax revenue.
Large players in the U.S. mobile gambling market such as DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM are launching apps and enticing people age 21 and older with deals to sign up. Big sporting events this weekend including the AFC and NFC championship games and a UFC bout featuring start Conor McGregor.
Sports and internet gambling were legalized under a law enacted more than a year ago, before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Casinos began accepting in-person sports wagers in March but had to wait for the creation of a licensing system for online operations, which have taken on increased significance amid state-ordered shutdowns or capacity restrictions at casinos to curb COVID-19.
“It’s clear to us that there’s incredible demand among Michiganders for at least sports betting. But my expectation is that online casino and in due course poker will be equally popular,” said BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt. His company’s app — previously launched in 10 states — is connected to MGM Resorts, including the Detroit casino and hotel.
Greenblatt said the state’s 8.4% online sports betting tax is “very sensible,” allowing licensed operators to compete with offshore sites.
“You’ve got a group of players who have long been betting offshore. We would like to see them bring their play back on shore,” he said. He said there will be minimal if any “cannibalization” of business from players who typically visit casinos but instead will play on the internet.
“We see an expansion of the market — so new players coming in to enjoy our product,” Greenblatt said, adding that MGM, like other casinos, will incentivize online gamblers to redeem rewards points by visiting onsite.
Casinos offering online games like blackjack will pay a tax of between 20% and 28%, depending on their amount of adjusted gross receipts. Net new annual revenues to the state and Detroit, which has commercial casinos, are projected to total $18.6 million and $13.7 million respectively, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.
The money will go to the state’s school aid fund, which covers public schools. It also will be earmarked to a state fund that compensates first responders for lost wages and medical benefits if they get cancer from fighting fires.
Municipalities with tribal casinos will receive a portion of tax revenues, too.
Noting of flurry of internet gambling and sports betting ads in recent weeks, state Attorney General Dana Nessel urged potential online gamblers to read the fine print before signing up.
“In some instances, site users may be required to spend or deposit a certain amount of money into an account before receiving their free play credits, and users should make themselves aware of such conditions so they are not taken off guard,” she said.


Big game, big worries? Gambling addiction grows with Illinois’ booming sports betting industry — ‘It’s in your face all the time’
The number of Illinoisans seeking help for problem gambling has almost doubled since legislators approved a massive gambling expansion in 2019. Experts expect that number to keep growing.
Share this story.
Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter.
Share All sharing options for: Big game, big worries? Gambling addiction grows with Illinois’ booming sports betting industry — ‘It’s in your face all the time’
A man who requested that he only be identified as Anthony stands by a window in a high-rise condo near Soldier Field on Friday. The Tinley Park man is a recovering sports gambling addict. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times.
Thousands of football fans will be placing their first legal Super Bowl bets in Illinois this weekend, and for most, a little action will make the big game just a bit more entertaining.
But, for some, it might open the door to regular betting, adding a quick dopamine hit to the regular season viewing experience. Maybe they’ll have to start budgeting for a new habit. Maybe they’ll have to start borrowing for it.
And, for a select few, it will get worse.
It’s already gotten worse for hundreds of people statewide since Illinois legislators approved a massive gaming expansion a year and a half ago, introducing legal sports wagering to a state that’s already packed with more places to gamble than Las Vegas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made matters even worse, according to Luke, a Chicago-area problem gambler who was able to get out of the game nine years ago. Economic uncertainty and the general malaise of the quarantine lifestyle make gambling all the more enticing.
“It used to be that there was a stigma, and gambling was taboo. It was seedy,” said Luke, who asked that his full name not be used. “Now, you can do it on your phone. The companies that are doing it are publicly traded Fortune 500 companies.”
A man who asked that he only be identified as Anthony reads news about the Super Bowl on his phone Friday. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times.
Calls to the state’s gambling disorder hotline more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, when 13,258 people reached out either there or online for information on a problem that experts say is out of sight but front of mind for a growing number of bettors and their families. The Illinois Department of Human Services, which aims to connect problem gamblers with counseling resources, calls that a “dramatic increase.”
In 2019, about 580 people received treatment for gambling disorders through state-sponsored programs across Illinois. That figure jumped past 1,000 in 2020, and experts say it doesn’t even cut the deck as only an estimated 3% of problem gamblers acknowledge they have a problem, and even fewer seek treatment.
Counseling gets boost with Illinois gambling expansion — but more addiction is sure to follow.
State’s all-in gambling expansion offers new temptation for those struggling to stay out.
Hundreds more took the more drastic step of banning themselves from casinos and the smartphone betting apps that have them hooked. About 13,500 people were enrolled in the self-exclusion program maintained by regulators at the Illinois Gaming Board in mid-2019, but that number has since shot past 14,000.
Many of those gamblers cite their temptations as coming from the state’s 10 casinos, three horse racing tracks and 7,233 bars, restaurants, gas stations and VFW halls that also house slot machines.
But since mobile sports betting launched last summer, Illinoisans can now gamble 24/7 from the comfort of home — and they’ve already lost more than $101 million doing so, according to Gaming Board revenue figures.
Blackhawks analyst Eddie Olczyk placed Illinois first legal sports bet in March 2019. Gamblers across the state have wagered more than $1.4 billion since then — and lost $101 million. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times.
As the billion-dollar industry keeps growing, addiction counselors say they’re hearing more and more from young people glued to the sports betting apps whose ads saturate Illinois airwaves and billboards.
“It’s in your face all the time,” said Dr. Teresa Garate of the Gateway Foundation, a network of 16 addiction treatment centers statewide. “It’s becoming a part of everyday life. Everyone accepts it, but it’s a serious trigger for some.”
That’s the case for Anthony, a 36-year-old recovering problem gambler from southwest suburban Tinley Park, who said he often finds himself changing the station as sports talk radio hosts dissect the latest betting lines.
“It’ll just be too much, it’s too close,” Anthony said. “Even though I don’t think it’ll lead me down there, I know better than to let my mind start thinking like that.”
Anthony reads his favorite passages from ‘A Day at a Time’ a book by Gamblers Anonymous. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times.
Elizabeth Thielen, a senior director at Nicasa Behavioral Health Services, said she’s seen yearly increases of people seeking help for gambling disorders across Chicago’s north suburbs, but a “real burst” of clients has sought them out in the past nine months.
“The ages we’re seeing are trending younger, and I think that’s directly related to sports betting,” Thielen said. “At the same time, I feel hopeful because you have young people showing a surprising level of insight to find help.”
Way Back Inn executive director Anita Pindiur is pictured outside the Maywood facility in 2019. Sun-Times file.
While there’s been an influx of new problem gamblers, the potential for relapse is an equal concern for Dr. Anita Pindiur, executive director of the Way Back Inn, a Maywood treatment center. About 10 former patients have already returned to the Way Back Inn for counseling this football season alone.
“Sometimes, we forget how quickly it can happen,” Pindiur said. “These things are advertised in a way that they’re fun and entertaining, and they should be. But often there is no set of limits or recognition of the limits until we get our credit-card bill, or somebody points it out.”
Illinois sports betting market could rival Nevada’s, analysts say.
Sports bettors have already wagered $1.4 billion since legal industry launched in Illinois.
COVID-19 puts new Illinois casino licenses on hold.
Besides financial ruin, experts say people who suffer from gambling addiction are more likely to suffer from substance abuse issues, turn to crime or even attempt suicide.
“I was losing everything,” said Patrick, a 35-year-old Niles man who’s 13 months removed from his last bet. “I’d have a paycheck on a Friday afternoon and it would be gone by Friday night. My relationships with my family and whoever I was dating, it just got out of control. I was lying, I was stealing, I was doing all these crazy things.”
As sports betting has been brought out of the shadows into everyday life, counselors say their challenge now is removing the stigma around seeking treatment for addiction — and they say they’re making progress through increased awareness. That’s been boosted with the help of $7 million set aside in the state’s gambling expansion law in grants for treatment centers, which have used a lot of that money to bolster advertising.
The Way Back Inn is one of only a handful of addiction treatment centers in Illinois that provide a gambling-specific program. Sun-Times file.
“One of the biggest barriers to treatment is stigma, especially for gambling,” said Garate, from the Gateway Foundation. “People don’t see it as a real addiction. It is, and help is out there.”
Just how many people need help is unclear. Experts generally estimate that between 2% and 5% of the population deal with gambling disorder, which would project to about 635,000 people across Illinois, including about 136,000 in Chicago.
TO GET HELP.
For more information on problem gambling support, call 1-800-GAMBLER or text “ILGAMB” to 53342.
But there’s been no comprehensive study of the problem in Illinois since 1999, well before video slots dotted the walls at thousands of establishments across the state and sportsbooks were accessible anywhere that had a cellphone signal.
“You have to believe those numbers are different now,” Thielen said.
The state Department of Human Services is out to find out just how much they’ve shifted with the onslaught of gambling options. The agency launched a $500,000 study last fall surveying treatment providers, problem gamblers and others to gauge the prevalence of addiction, especially among populations considered vulnerable or marginalized due to race, culture, economic or social disparity.
“We want to know what’s the challenge, and what should we look for,” said David Jones, who directs the department’s Substance Use Prevention and Recovery Division. “Then, you can start to bring more evidence-based solutions on a size consistent with the scale of the challenge.”




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