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State study shows sharp rise in problem gambling

Gambling kiosks
Susan Haigh/AP
More than 11% of the state population either has a gambling problem or is at risk for it, according to a new study.

More than two thirds of adult Illinoisans gambled last year (68%), and almost 4% have a gambling problem, according to a study done for the state Department of Human Services. That's 383,000 people. An additional 7.7%, or about 761,000 people, are at risk for developing a gambling problem.

“We hope that the findings of this assessment will provide much needed information for people working on prevention and treatment of problem gambling in Illinois, which will help them make data-informed decisions on how best to assist individuals on their road to recovery,” said Dr. Hannah Carliner of Health Resources in Action, lead author of the study.

The study is the first assessment of problem gambling in the state, ordered by lawmakers after the expansion of video gambling availability in Illinois.

“The broad scope of this assessment also enables it to be used as a baseline measure for future assessments to track changes over time regarding prevalence of gambling and problem gambling, and availability and use of services,” said Carliner.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) says it will use the data to advance treatment programs. Treatment providers said they saw a 440% increase in gambling addiction assessments last budget year — more than 13,000 assessments in all. The state also saw a 185% increase over the previous year in the number of individuals receiving gambling treatment.

Lawmakers asked for the study after expanding video gambling.

State officials say the data suggest a need for more and better treatment programs.

"It is so important that we have data on the patterns and depth of gambling across the state. I hope this report will be used to advance and expand effective treatment and recovery options for people experiencing problem gambling disorder throughout Illinois,” said IDHS Secretary Grace B. Hou. “For those who do struggle with gambling disorder, they seldom seek help and often hide their behavior from family members.”

The state has budgeted $10 million for gambling treatment services in the budget year that begins in July.

The DHS report includes recommended several strategies to address problem gambling amidst the state-authorized gaming expansion. These include providing consistent funding toward problem gambling prevention and services, increasing awareness about problem gambling and its symptoms, and improving access to holistic treatment for problem gambling, said the department.

The Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery funded 26 gambling treatment programs in the current fiscal year; 21 of them provide outpatient treatment and outreach services to communities.

If you or someone you know is experiencing problems with gambling, contact the state’s Gambling Helpline weknowthefeeling.org. Call 1-800-GAMBLER, or text "ILGamb" to 53342.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.