Illinois online casinos are not, yet, legal. But if that day comes — and it could come in 2023 — it will also come with additional challenges in terms of responsible gambling.
Online casinos put the fun of a casino floor in the comfort of your home. In just a few clicks, you can be transported to a prime chair at a blackjack table, roulette wheel, or in front of a hundred different slot machines.
This accessibility is fun, a by-product of the technologically connected world we live in, but it has a cost. Being able to access a casino anywhere you are in the state means it’s easier to develop a gambling problem.
Also, the ads are everywhere. The games are bright and exciting. There are promotions that give you money just for signing up.
As states have expanded their gambling activities, including online casinos, they’ve also maintained a promise to keep responsible gambling measures front and center for players. They can be as easy as a reminder to log off after 15 minutes, or signing up for a self-exclusion list.
My own story about the value of taking a break
I know firsthand the role responsible gambling can play in gambling through an online casino (Note: I live in New Jersey where online casinos are legal).
Last year, I was playing an online slot machine. I was up financially when suddenly everything froze on my screen and a notification popped up. It told me that I had been playing for 15 minutes and should consider taking a break. I paused. Then I shut down my game, content with my winnings.
Gambling apps and websites typically allow customers to set limits on time of play, the amount they can bet in a certain timeframe and how much they can deposit each day or week.
Though, each state has a different approach to responsible gambling, some better than others.
Addressing the problem
What do politicians do when they see a problem? They throw money at it.
Problem gambling is on the rise. According to the National Council on Problem Gaming, two million adults in the US have severe gambling issues. That number is expected to grow as gambling expands.
Since states reap the rewards of online gambling and sports betting through tax revenue, they also try to curb the addiction problem they helped spawn.
Forty-two states and the District of Columbia publicly funded help for problem gamblers in 2021, spending a total of $94 million on helplines, counselors and media ads to try to help.
Illinois ranks 11th in responsible gambling funding
In 2021, Illinois ranked 11th in the US in terms of per capita public funds dedicated to problem gambling services. The state of Illinois spent $6,800,000 on problem gambling services in fiscal year 2021. That was the fourth most in the nation. This according to the 2021 Survey of Publicly Funded Problem Gambling Services in the United States. It was produced by the National Association of Administrators for Disordered Gambling Services.
“The average allocation of per capita funds in Illinois was 54 cents, whereas the national average was 40 cents per capita,” the survey reported.
“The state has the Illinois Problem Gambling Helpline, a telephone and web resource. In FY2021 it received 573 calls for help, 179 texts, 139 chats, and 16,900 website visits. [Department of Human Services] funds local providers for prevention activities and provides statewide public awareness efforts such as the weknowthefeeling.org. Treatment and recovery resources are numerous. In FY2021, there were 26 funded providers; out of this group, six provided outreach and 20 provided some level of treatment services to 1,654 individuals.”
Funding for Illinois problem gambling programs just 0.005% of tax revenue
Still, the $6.8 million Illinois spent on responsible gambling programs is just 0.005% of the $1.358 billion in tax revenue the state took in from gambling in FY2021.
And funding for responsible gambling programs remains much lower than funding for other addictions.
Keith Whyte, the executive director of the NCPG told PlayIllinois in 2022 that per capita funding for problem gambling programs in 2021 was 230 times lower than spending on substance abuse prevention.
“And I don’t think there’s a lot of people that say, ‘Oh, the drug addiction field is just massively over funded.’ So imagine having 230 times less per capita to do it… And the ironic thing is, illegal drugs don’t contribute billions of dollars to the state economy. It’s just the reverse. Gambling does, but somehow, as a society, we haven’t quite figured out how to take just a fraction of that money and put it back to these prevention programs.”
Whyte is calling for 1% of legalized gambling tax revenue to be directed toward responsible gambling programs. In Illinois’ case, that would involve doubling spending from $6.8 million to $13.58 million annually to meet that 1% target.
Oregon, Massachusetts and Delaware spend the most per capita
The top five states in per capita funding for problem gambling in 2021 were:
- Oregon — about $1.65 per person
- Massachussetts — $1.45
- Delaware — $1.38
- Nebraska — $0.95
- Iowa — $0.94
In terms of total funding for problem gaming platforms in 2021 the leaders were:
- Massachusetts — $10,200,000
- California — $8,681,501
- Oregon — $7,034,955
- Illinois — $6,800,000
- Pennsylvania — $6,369,000
Massachusetts has developed a first-of-its-kind program called “PlayMyWay” which sends bettors notifications when they’ve gambled certain amounts of money, similar to the notification that happened to me.
Oregon prides itself on a wide variety of support available for those concerned with their gambling habits.
However, the stats can be imprecise. Many states lump in their problem gambling funding with other addictions under a broad term. So it’s impossible to know whether the money allocated to help problem gamblers is really helping them.
One national phone number to get help
If you’ve ever been on a licensed sportsbook or online casino web page or app, you’ve seen the RG (Responsible Gaming) logo somewhere at the top of the screen. Click it and you’re directed to a screen where you can get help with your problem, mainly through a helpline that is open 24-7.
It may sound obvious now, but originally those helplines were state specific. But why couldn’t a person in Illinois get help from a counselor in Iowa? Now they can.
The NCPG operates the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network which can be reached at 1-800-522-4700. The network is a single national access point to local resources for those seeking confidential help for a gambling problem. Help is available 24/7.
In June 2022, the NCPG also reached an agreement with the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey to use the latter’s 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) number to access help nationally.
Illinois Gaming Board offers registry system
States have also come up with the idea of a self-exclusion program.
In New Jersey, you can sign up to be excluded from all retail casinos or all Internet gaming activities. You can self-exclude yourself for either one year or five years. To do so, you submit your personal information, such as your address and drivers license number. That information is kept in a database of casino licensees. If you try to circumvent the list and are found, you’ll be dismissed from the property and your winnings taken away.
The Illinois Gaming Board established a Problem Gambler Registry System. When a resident enrolls, he/she is not allowed to gamble at a casino or use an online account. Also, the person is taken off all mailing lists and marketing databases used by Illinois casinos. The program is for life. You can be removed after five years, but only through a sworn affidavit from a mental health profession that your gambling habits pose no threats.
Finding the balance
You have to give something to get something, right? By accepting and enjoying the convenience of online gambling, players may have to recognize they’ll have to allow the provider to know a little more about them personally.
It is being done for their own benefit.
You may receive the following notifications that:
- you have been playing at an online casino too long
- have hit a spending threshold or
- have hit a deposit limit.
Seeing such notifications may not be fun to see in that particular moment. But they are good for your long-term health and well-being.
Where in Illinois you can get help for problem gambling
The NCPG lists a number of places in Illinois where you can get help for problem gambling, including:
National Problem Gambling Helpline
Illinois Council on Problem Gambling
Self help resources
• Gamblers Anonymous (www.gamblersanonymous.org)
Is fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from a gambling problem.
• Gam-Anon (www.gam-anon.org)
Is a self-help organization for the spouse, family or close friends of compulsive gamblers.
• GamTalk (www.gamtalk.org)
Is a 24/7 moderated online peer support forum.