Calls to Florida gambling help line doubled after launch of online sports betting

Calls to Florida’s problem gambling help line doubled in the month after the Seminole Tribe of Florida launched a sports betting app late last year, according to numbers from the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling Inc.

The council, a not-for-profit that runs the help line, said calls increased by 100% in mid-December compared to the month prior, after the tribe launched its Hard Rock Bet app statewide to people 21 and over.

The app went live late last year despite outstanding legal battles in state and federal courts. Hard Rock — which initially launched a sports betting app in 2021 and then shut it down amid court challenges — relaunched the app in November on a limited basis before expanding access the next month.

Jennifer Kruse, executive director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, said increased access to online gambling is likely one factor for the spike in calls to the help line. But she cautioned that it’s too soon to fully evaluate the impact of the Hard Rock app’s launch.

Other factors driving the uptick, Kruse says, include a societal shift toward viewing gambling as more acceptable. She also said that people who need assistance with a gambling addiction are now more easily able to find information about the help line because of advisories attached to sports betting ads.

“Now, it will be easier for them, if they do develop a problem, to get help,” Kruse said.

In a statement, the Seminole Tribe of Florida said it was “committed to player safety and responsible gambling” and that its promotion of the help line “likely impacts the number of helpline calls.”

Younger men have driven the growth in calls for help, Kruse said. She said young people are now graduating college, getting jobs, accessing credit and earning significant income for the first time amid a proliferation of online gambling options, including fantasy sports platforms such as DraftKings and FanDuel whose legality has also been disputed. Kruse said some young people are getting into gambling before their brain is fully developed and are therefore more susceptible to developing problems when they gamble.

This isn’t the first time the council has seen spikes in calls, text messages, emails and live chats from people seeking help after betting apps went live. In November 2021, inquiries to the hotline related to online gambling almost quadrupled after the Hard Rock app initially went online. In May 2022, when Caesar’s Horse Racing App went live in Florida, there was a 47% increase in help line inquiries that reported online gambling as their primary gambling problem.

Additionally, numbers provided by the help line show Florida previously saw a significant uptick in problems related to online gambling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kruse said when casinos closed down and people were homebound, they found ways to gamble through offshore operators.

Kruse says increased online betting access poses a unique risk because users don’t see themselves physically spending cash.

“You’re not watching the money leave your hand,” Kruse said.

The fate of online gambling in Florida is still undecided pending legal questions about whether Gov. Ron DeSantis’ gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe violates the constitutional requirement for voter approval of casino expansion and whether the statewide sports betting app can be construed as wagering on tribal land.

The council called on the state to require all gambling operators to contribute funds to support the help line.

“We do not have unlimited capacity and our resources were already maxed out prior to this,” said Kruse.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling’s help line is 888-ADMIT-IT.