Tennessee addiction clinics weigh in on sports betting’s contribution to treatment requests

August 4, 2023
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One 24-hour hotline has observed an increase in calls related to problem gambling since 2020.

A Tennessee addiction treatment clinic has reported a rise in activity related to requests for help with gambling problem issues, according to a local report in the Cheatham County Exchange.

Dr. James Whelan at the University of Memphis began examining the effects sports betting has had on addiction rates, a project he said he approached out of curiosity.  

He told local news, “When you introduce new forms of gambling, then the rates of people having struggles goes up.”

Whelan currently runs a gambling-specific clinic at the University of Memphis called The Gambling Clinic. The facility focuses on providing treatment for problem gambling, as well as providing resources and raising awareness for responsible gaming.

The state first embraced legalized online sports wagering in 2019. Since the market’s opening, Tennessee is currently home to 13 sportsbooks.

Addiction treatment facilities, like the TN Redline, have observed an increase in the number of calls asking for help related to problem gambling. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services funds the Redline, which is operated by the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drugs and Other Addiction Services (TAADAS).

The 24-hour hotline has been taking calls since 2006. During the last three years, calls related to problem gambling have increased from 18 to 40 per month.

TAADAS Executive Director Mary Linden said there could be a correlation between the state’s legal sports wagering market and the increase in calls.

She said, “It was when sports betting got started that the need became more clear across the state.”

However, Whelan said he believes the commercial market has brought previous statewide problem gambling issues to the surface.

He said, “In some ways, I think the state of Tennessee, like many jurisdictions, was really not paying attention to the existence of gambling problems.

“In some ways, sports wagering has put a little bit of a spotlight on problems that still existed.”


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