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After expansion of gambling in Connecticut, calls for more help to address problem betting habits

John Seaton, 59, of New York makes his picks during a soft launch of sports betting at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Sept. 30, 2021, in Ledyard, Connecticut.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Lee Elci of East Lyme lays a bet on the Thursday Night Football game, taking the Minnesota Vikings over the Pittsburgh Steelers, at Foxwoods' grand opening ceremony for the DraftKings Sportsbook new two-story space in the Great Cedar Casino in December. It replaces the temporary location that premiered in September.

The Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling says it doesn’t have the kind of support it needs to prevent gambling addiction now that consumers can bet on sports and play casino games online.

Executive Director Diana Goode testified before lawmakers Monday, saying the council’s helpline has been inundated with calls over the past 90 days. She wants two stakeholders — the tribal nations that run the Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun Casinos — to put up $500,000 each to address addiction prevention efforts, including the council’s problem gambling helpline.

“We have problem gamblers over here, we have awesome treatment over here and the helpline is that bridge that gets people from over here to over there. And without the funding to be able to market that helpline, there’s a real breakdown in the system, and that funding has normally come from the casinos,” Goode said.

She addressed the stakeholders at an informational forum on gambling hosted by the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee. Licensed operators of sports betting and online casino gaming were on hand to share their performance in the first three months of expanded gambling in Connecticut.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (Foxwoods) and the Mohegan Tribe (Mohegan Sun) said that under state law, they already spend $500,000 on local responsible-gaming entities — not just the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling.

The council gets money every year from the tribal nations as part of that $1 million fund –– the Mashantucket Pequots estimate their direct payment to the council is between $250,000 and $300,000.

Now Goode is asking for more, since the tribal nations can volunteer more funding if they want.

“We will certainly sit down with Diana to see how we can continue to partner, but likewise, we are looking at other programs that also serve the constituency we’re seeking to assist,” Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, said in a written statement after the hearing.

When asked by lawmakers on Monday, the Mohegan Tribe also didn’t have an exact figure for how much it sends to the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling each year.

James Gessner Jr., chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, said in a written statement that the tribal nation is committed to spending more than legally required to support efforts to tackle problem gambling.

“We will continue to invest more than $500,000 on critical programs in the state, including the CT Council on Problem Gambling, as part of our agreement with the State of Connecticut,” Gessner Jr. said.

The council reports that calls, texts and chats for its problem gambling helpline have quadrupled since the expansion of gambling in Connecticut on Sept. 30, with a 96% increase year over year in December 2021 compared with December 2020.

But that’s not yet translating to more people getting gambling-specific treatment. For one, a group that helps people with gambling addictions on behalf of the state says that it’s not seeing an uptick in Connecticut residents seeking treatment. The Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services says its client caseload numbers in its Bettor Choice gambling addiction treatment program are consistent with the three months prior to the launch of online betting. Most recently in December, the program’s client caseload totaled 183. Three months prior in September, it was 187.

Also, some residents are calling the helpline for help with their gambling accounts, not for help with gambling habits.

“It’s very hard to get a customer service person on the phone, so some of the calls that we’re getting are people saying, ‘I can’t log-in to my FanDuel account,’” Goode said Monday.

Both tribal nations were pressed by reporters and lawmakers for statistics on problem gambling statistics Monday. Ray Pineault, president of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, said it was too early in the launch to release numbers related to gaming habits of players.

“When it comes to digital gaming, it’s very early on with respect to collecting any data. We’re only 90 days in,” Pineault said.

Officials for both tribal nations did not share the kind of information they use to track bettors that would highlight problem gambling. Mashantucket Pequot representatives pointed to privacy laws and competition as factors for keeping player data from the public.

Anika Howard, vice president of brand marketing and digital at Foxwoods Resort Casino, said they may soon have public data related to people formally opting out of online gambling or sports betting to protect themselves, as well as numbers on how many people hit a $2,500 limit on losses, which temporarily shuts down their account.

“We’ll have to get together collectively as all of the suppliers together and say, ‘Here are the things we are comfortable sharing broadly as an industry,’” Howard said.

Gaming executives also discussed how sports betting and online casino gaming performed in the first three months of expanded gambling. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said it expects to share more revenue with the state than it projected prior to the launch of expanded gambling.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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