Despite its illegality, Florida bettors are becoming increasingly addicted to online gambling.
During last Friday’s Florida Gaming Control Commission meeting, a leader of a responsible gambling group said its hotline has spiked with callers asking for help with online gambling addiction.
Jennifer Kruse, the executive director of the Florida Council of Compulsive Gambling, gave a presentation to regulators. She outlined recent trends her group found and gave insight into their efforts to curb problem gambling.
Kruse’s group is a non-profit organization funded by the state government and the Seminole Tribe. They were founded in 1988 and provide services to those suffering from gambling addiction.
Their main service runs a 24/7 anonymous hotline for problem gamblers at 888-ADMIT-IT. Additionally, they perform outreach work to let Floridians know there is help if they need it.
Between the 2019-2020 fiscal year and the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the group saw a 42% increase in online gambling calls. Their data showed it was usually white males under 30 with ‘higher incomes.’
Illegality hasn’t stopped a rise in online betting
Online gambling in Florida isn’t a regulated market. Furthermore, it’s illegal for operators to accept online wagers from Florida residents. However, under state law, those who do wager with offshore sites would not be prosecuted.
According to Kruse, that hasn’t stopped Floridians from betting online.
“Even though online gambling is not legal here in our state, we’re definitely seeing a huge uptick in people who are reaching out for help,” said Kruse. “And that’s their primary problem.”
On the other hand, Kruse said online gamblers ask for help well before brick-and-mortar bettors would. Unfortunately, she said that’s because problems can develop in the blink of an eye.
“They tend to reach out quicker. It can cause problems a lot faster because of the access to credit, the ability to gamble with a click of a mouse or on your mobile phone.”
Legal online betting could actually help curb the problem
At any Florida casino or pari-mutuel facility, pamphlets are placed throughout the building, giving bettors the information needed to find help.
Florida law requires those pamphlets and other signage. The state also requires employees to be trained in spotting problem gamblers.
But online gambling is illegal. Thus, it does not follow those same guidelines. As a result, online bettors in Florida have to do extra legwork to get the help they need.
“Because online gambling isn’t currently legal in the state, those people that are reaching out for help, they’re having to search for a number,” said Kruse. “It’s not mandated. There aren’t consumer protections that are required for those operators.”
Slot machines are Florida’s biggest problem
Online gambling saw the biggest uptick, but problem gamblers in Florida were most likely to cite slot machines as their main addiction.
This included both legal operations and illegal operations. Slot machines are legal at Seminole-owned casinos and pari-mutuels in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
There are also illegal slot parlors that masqueraded as arcades. Stopping these operations is one of the main focuses of the FGCC.
The illegal operations are likely the main reason the hotline saw calls regarding slot machine calls distributed equally throughout the state. Callers citing a slot machine problem were equally split between both genders.
Florida problem gambling is skewing younger and male
Kruse presented stats that indicate problem gambling is rising among young males.
The age group between 31-49 was the largest group seeking help. They comprised 39% of the hotline’s calls.
But the largest increase came from those under 25, representing 14% of hotline callers. Moreover, 17% of that group indicated they started gambling before their 18th birthday.
With the exception of poker, Florida law requires gamblers to be at least 21. Poker players, on the other hand, can start playing at 18.