As Casinos Reopen, Michigan Renews Focus On Responsible Gambling

Written By Matt Schoch on June 18, 2020Last Updated on July 25, 2020

Michael Burke knows the telltale signs for problem gambling. He’s been there.

Once a successful attorney in Howell, Burke lost $1.6 million of his clients’ money on his gambling addiction and ended up with a gun to his head, contemplating suicide.

Now free 15 years after a three-year prison stint, Burke has dedicated his life to helping out the next “Michael Burke.” Burke said:

“I’ve been able to be a lot of service to people. It really comforts me, knowing what I’ve done, what I’ve been able to do. It’s a wonderful way to live your life again.”

As casinos across Michigan reopen after coronavirus closures, thousands of residents are returning to gaming en masse. Twenty of Michigan’s 23 tribal casinos are open, and Detroit’s three casinos are awaiting word from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer so they can reopen as well.

With many state residents on expanded unemployment benefits, and a rush on gambling anticipated, a renewed focus on responsible gaming is in order.

AGA: Gamblers should have a plan

The American Gambling Association says to “Have a Game Plan” in their directives.

Among the key points:

  • Set a budget and stick to it.
  • Keep it social by playing with friends, family and colleagues.
  • Learn the details of the games.
  • Play with trusted licensed, regulated operators.

Michigan programs grow with expanded gambling

Michigan has taken steps to curb problem gambling.

One is the Disassociated Persons List, a voluntary lifetime commitment to never visit a Detroit casino.

Burke said he testified in Lansing to change the law and allow people to take themselves off the list after five years.

“There are so many people who will not do that for a lifetime,” said Burke, now president of the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling. “So, they just continue on.”

He said if someone spends five years clean of gambling, the majority of those people will get well.

State trying to reach problem sports gamblers

As part of expanded gambling laws, an additional $1 million of new revenue will go toward programs to fight problem gambling.

The law requires $500,000 annually to be taken from the internet sports betting fund and the internet gaming fund for the programs.

According to The Detroit News, the Michigan Problem Gambling Helpline had planned to air TV commercials to reach sports fans.

Plans were to air ads during 35 Red Wings games, 43 Pistons games and 260 commercials during March Madness, when sports betting would be available in Michigan for the first time.

With many of those games canceled, spokesperson Lynn Sutfin, of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), said this week, those funds would be repurposed.

The changes will “strengthen program messaging found on social media and through Google search in an attempt to direct those in need of help to call the helpline,” Sutfin wrote to Playinmichigan.

“All remaining funds will be retained for the remainder of the fiscal year to be utilized by the department as part of the collaborative efforts to minimize the financial impact of COVID-19. The FY20 media campaign was funded by the Compulsive Gaming Prevention Fund comprised of contributions from the Michigan Gaming Control Board and the Michigan State Lottery.”

Trends show Michigan problem gambling slows

With casinos closed, some of the data points suggest problem gambling has been less of an issue.

While the state lost revenue because online casinos and mobile sports betting weren’t available legally, it also may have curbed some problem gambling.

Since 2001, 4,818 people have signed up for the Disassociated Persons List, including 216 in 2019.

As of June 1, the state of Michigan reports 47 people have signed up this year, a drop of nearly 50% per month from a year ago.

Sutfin said from March 13 through Tuesday, there were 2,675 calls to the gambling helpline. That’s an average of fewer than 900 calls per month.

The Detroit News reported that the helpline received 14,219 calls in the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to Alia Lucas, the department’s gambling disorder program manager.

That’s an average of 1,185 calls per month in the time ending Sept. 30, nearly 200 more than the previous three months.

But with casinos reopening, and online gambling expansion coming soon statewide, problems could be on the horizon.

Burke hopes Michigan gets inpatient gambling rehab

Burke, who now lives in Portage, points to the South for the model of how he believes Michigan should attack problem gambling.

He praises the CORE facility in Shreveport, LA, for how the issue is handled in the bayou.

The Center of Recovery Experience center is an inpatient counseling facility with varying levels of treatment and help. The gaming industry supports the facility entirely, Burke said.

“For most of my time working with gambling, which is about 15 years, that has been the premier program in the country,” Burke said. “But not followed by many other states, and it absolutely drives me crazy. It’s a lot cheaper than substance abuse treatment.”

Burke emphasized that inpatient gambling rehab must be free for patients.

10 characteristics of problem gamblers

Burke provided Playinmichigan with a list of 10 common characteristics of problem gamblers, which are echoed at Gamblers Anonymous:

  1. Being preoccupied with gambling: Talking about it all the time, trying to find ways to get money.
  2. Feeling restless or irritable when you try to cut down or quit gambling
  3. Using gambling to relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt and anxiety.
  4. Needing to gamble with an increasing amount of money to get the same thrill. Trying to control or stop gambling without success.
  5. Using gambling as a way to escape problems.
  6. Trying to win back or “chase” losses.
  7. Lying to hide the extent of your gambling.
  8. Loss of relationships due to gambling.
  9. Resorting to theft to get money for gambling.
  10. Borrowing money from friends and relatives and neighbors to get yourself out of an immediate problem or a “bailout.”

Who do I call for help?

The Department of Health and Human Services has a helpline to call if you or someone you know has a gambling problem.

The line is free to call and open 24 hours at 1-800-270-7117.

According to the department, “Trained professionals under contract with MDHHS will respond on the helpline or virtually, coordinate the initial consultations with qualified counselors, provide financial assistance information and oversee ongoing treatment of clients when necessary.”

More information can be found on the MDHHS website.

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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He’s also the former host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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