Gambling hotline calls rise in wake of legal sports betting

The Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling is getting flooded with phone calls.

"They're saying that they've gotten into trouble faster than they thought they would ever get into trouble," Executive Director Diana Goode said, referring to what many callers are saying.

Connecticut started online gambling and sports betting in October. Since that time, calls to the gambling problem hotline have skyrocketed by 126%, Goode said. And it is a younger crowd that is calling for help with addiction.

"Before this, when you thought about a problem gambler you thought about the little old lady at the slot machines, but that is not what we're seeing now. We're seeing 20-something males that are running into trouble with sports betting," Goode said. "They lose a little bit on a couple of bets and they think they need to win that back so they keep betting."

Goode said younger sports bettors are falling prey to enticing advertising.

"We're seeing a lot of 'betting is risk-free,' which it's not or 'just open an account and we'll give you a free $50,'" Goode said. "And that's really where these kids are running into trouble."

Jody Bechtold, a gambling addiction expert, said she has never had so many referrals as she has had since the state allowed online gambling and sports betting.

"The money spends so fast because you're not handing it over — it's all virtual and so you really lose track," said Bechtold, the CEO of The Better Institute, a group counseling practice.

In the meantime, the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling has hired two more people since February to help handle the volume of calls to its helpline.