With a federal ban no longer preventing states from legalizing sports betting, Louisiana made the decision to allow residents to gamble on the results on sporting events.
Voters in 56 of the state's 64 parishes approved legalizing sports betting in the Nov. 3, 2020 election, and the first legal bets were made in the state at tribal casinos on October.
Those parishes that voted not to allow legal gambling were Caldwell, Catahoula, Franklin, LaSalle, Sabine, Union, West Carroll and Winn.
Two major casinos, Caesars sports books in New Orleans and Bossier City, opened for business on Nov. 1, and several more have opened in the state since then.
Bettors will likely be able to place bets online over the internet or via smartphone apps starting Jan. 1, 2022.
However, the legalization of gambling on sports opens the door for problem gambling or gambling disorder, according to Janet Miller, executive director of the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling.
Miller said the state's hotline for problem gambling also answers phone calls from other states, and each time a state has legalized sports betting, call volume has increased.
"We definitely know that we have to be prepared for this new wave that probably will be very big for Louisiana with the sports wagering," Miller said.
Problem gambling and gambling disorder, which occur when a person develops an addiction to gambling, have already had a significant impact on Louisianans. According to the 2016 Louisiana Study of Problem Gambling, roughly 280,000 residents needed to be assessed or treated for gambling problems.
Furthermore, the study found the percentage of the population with a gambling disorder had nearly doubled from 2008, when 3% of Louisianans had a gambling disorder. At the national level, about 1% of the population has a severe gambling problem, per the National Center for Responsible Gaming.
Miller said key signs of problem gambling include not paying bills, not purchasing household needs or incurring high levels of debt. She also said folks may change in personality when they gamble and experience that it is no longer fun. The turning point from problem gambling to gambling disorder occurs when a person cannot change with intervention, even though they want to.
Though problem gambling is an issue in Louisiana, Miller said the state has resources to help treat those in need. When folks call the problem gambling hotline at 1-877-770-STOP (7867), they can receive support as well as be directed toward counseling services in their area, intensive outpatient care and/or inpatient treatment. All resources and treatment options are free to Louisiana residents, funded by the state.
"That is a huge benefit that Louisiana does for our residents that many states do not have," Miller said. "So I can't emphasize that enough that it's free and that barrier to treatment for somebody who's addicted to gambling to pay for it, to have a co-pay or insurance is removed."
Inpatient treatment is available through the Center of Recovery, also known as CORE, which is based in Shreveport. While the facility is free for Louisiana residents, Miller said the center has seen patients from across the country and the world. This is because specialists in treating gambling addiction are globally hard to come by, and Louisiana employs professionals certified in the field, Miller said.
Family and friends can also reach out to the problem gambling hotline for support or resources on how to navigate situations with a loved one who may be experiencing some level of gambling issues. Those who do not want to call also have the option to chat online at helpforgambling.org, but this does not allow people the opportunity to be directly transferred to other services. Additionally, Miller said the LACG works with the state's gaming division and teaches pointers on responsible gambling.
"We need to let people know what great programs we have for people because that is what we want to do with people who have a gambling addiction is to give them hope," Miller said. "It really is fairly hopeless addiction, especially when they lose so much money and so many relationships or jobs, and so it's important for us to keep giving hope."
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This article originally appeared on Monroe News-Star: Problem gambling may increase statewide with legalized sports wagering