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Researchers see increase in sports betting since it became legal in Tennessee in 2018

According to researchers, clients as young as 30-years-old are seeking help for gambling, and most of them are men.
Credit: ABC24 Staff
University of Memphis Gambling Clinic Therapist Marcos Lerma said if you are going to sports bet, make sure you set boundaries.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Here in the Mid-South, experts are saying there has been a spike in the number of people who participate in sports wagering.

Experts with the Institute for Gambling Education and Research said only one out of 10 people with a gambling problem will reach out to get services, and up to 200,000 people in Tennessee realize the harms that come with gambling. 

Researchers said the institute sees 25 to 30 people per week.

In 2018, lawmakers legalized sports betting. Experts at the Institute for Gambling Education and Research at UofM said many clients who used to come to the clinic were mostly presenting with gambling as it related to casinos and lotteries, but now more people are coming in for sports gambling. 

According to researchers, clients as young as 30-years-old are seeking help, and most of them are men.

“One of the biggest issues with sports gambling is that it’s highly stigmatized, people hide it, and they’ve lied about it. They don’t want to admit that they had a problem. In fact, we did a study that showed almost half the people who we screened as having a problem don’t believe they have a problem,” Director of the Institute for Gambling Education and Research James Whelan said.

Research shows that before 2018, sports betting only happened in Nevada, but now it is everywhere and anyone 21 or older can bet at the convenience of their phone.

Whelan said they are researching to identify the excessive use of gambling.

“Probably the big one for some people is some level of financial distress. That they are spending more money than what they should or than what they might reasonably do,” Whelan explained. “All the way to the point of people creating financial harms, to the point that they can’t pay their bills and can’t pay their mortgage.”

Whelan said they are working on ways to address the problems with mental health and substance abuse services using the 5% revenue from the state legislature.

"One of the things we’ve learned is that every individual with a significant problem due to gambling impacts a minimum of six other people in their lives,” Whelan said.

University of Memphis Gambling Clinic Therapist Marcos Lerma said anyone who is going to bet on sports needs to make sure to set boundaries.

“Whether that be setting a certain amount of time constraints or only spending money that you have available to you,” Lerma stated.

If you do feel like you or someone you know could be addicted, you can get therapy through the institute.

“We help them evaluate their pros and cons within the treatment, and then we’ll typically do a timeline followed by a calendar where we’ll evaluate their past spending and how much time they spent gambling, money they spent gambling, to give them an overall bigger picture of their gambling behavior,” Lerma added.

They will also help you figure out an alternative. The main goal is for the therapists to serve as a guide.

Also, the rates of mood disorders, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and attempts are significantly higher among those with gambling problems.

If you or someone who you know feels like you may need help, you can click here.

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