BUFFALO, N.Y. — Mobile sports betting has already proven to be big business in New York state. In the first seven weeks since kicking off in January, bettors placed more than $2.8 billion in wagers.
But with that, comes concerns that the ease of betting on a phone could lead some people down a difficult road.
"It is an emotional disease,” said Dan W., a recovering compulsive gambler. “It plays games with your mind. It really does.”
Dan is also a member and a spokesperson for Gamblers Anonymous in Western New York, which is why we have to hide his full identity per the organization's policy.
He bet on all sorts of things, including sports. His behavior put his family hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and put a strain on his relationships.
"It got pretty bad,” he said. “My wife and my kids, my three girls, weren't even talking to me. My wife told me to get out, change the locks on the doors, the whole shot, unless you get help.”
Dan did get help, including joining Gamblers Anonymous. He hasn't made a bet in 11 years. While things are better now for him, he's worried about what's happening with mobile sports betting, that began in New York state in January.
"The mobile sports betting is going to cause a lot damage to a lot of people,” he said. “A lot of families. We've already seen it.”
In fact, he's seen an uptick in people showing up to meetings in the last couple of months, most of them sports bettors.
"I had a guy last night tell me he was up in the middle of the night betting on Australian rules football on the computer, just because he had to keep betting and he was losing money," he said.
The New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) has seen an increase in calls about problem gambling to its NYS HOPEline with people looking for help.
The numbers were up about 30% in January and February compared to last year. While it's still too early to tell exactly what the effects have been from mobile sports betting, OASAS commissioner Chinazo Cunningham said young men are at the highest risk to have issues with it.
"We're working with the state education department to make sure that teachers are trained, for example, to identify risks and be able to refer people to treatment. We're developing materials for family members and parents and individuals," said Cunningham.
The office is working on both prevention messaging and treatment. There's a network of 150 providers with specialized training in problem gambling.
And for people like Dan W. with Gamblers Anonymous, the message to others trying to find a way out: there is help out there.
"We don't need that old life,” he said. “We don't need that adrenaline rush that we got from gambling. We can find that somewhere else.”
If you or someone you know needs help with problem gambling, you can call the New York State HOPEline at 877-8-HOPE-NY or you can text 467369.
For Gamblers Anonymous, you can called 855-222-5542 or go to gamblersanyomous.org. Support for loved ones of those dealing with a gambling problem can go to gam-anon-org.