As the pandemic swept across the globe, people turned to a variety of coping mechanisms and pastimes to deal with the unprecedented challenges we all faced. For many, gambling offered what felt like a brief escape and a distraction from the stresses of reality.
However, for many people across the US, what started out as a seemingly fun and harmless activity quickly spiraled into a serious problem- leading to significant financial, emotional, and psychological harms. As a result, helpline calls to problem gambling programs and support services have spiked.
In 2021 alone, the National Council on Problem Gambling saw a 43% increase in phone calls, a 59% increase in texts, and an 84% increase in chat messages. The statistics are clear. As access and opportunities to gamble have increased, so has problem gambling.
I'm Justin Antons (MA, LIMHP, LADC, CDGC), a Helpline Specialist here at the Nebraska Problem Gambling Assistance Program.
I've seen, firsthand, the impact the pandemic has had on problem gambling. As Nebraskans had extra time, and in some cases, extra money, many forms of gambling increased in popularity. Every week, I talk to Nebraskans who have lost the best parts of their lives to slot machine, poker tables, sports gambling, and more.
I believe there at two key reasons gambling is becoming a bigger and bigger problem here in Nebraska:
It's available 24/7. Online Gambling isn't legal here, but I often talk to gamblers who are illegally accessing online sites or using underground bookies to place their bets. It's all around us and can feel impossible to get away from.
Legal gambling opportunities are just across the border. For Omaha residents, some of Iowa's biggest casinos are just a short drive away. That makes it especially easy to get caught up in slots, poker, and other kinds of casino gambling. And before you know it, you're in over your head.
As a result of the dangerously convenient access to both online and casino gambling, our NPGAP helpline callers are often already facing serious financial hardships and significant debt. Many of the clients I work with have $1,000 to $2,000 in gambling debt - but some racked up as much as $36,000 in gambling debt before they finally reached out for help.
Our callers are also often struggling with tense relationships, and they regret how much time gambling has taken from their family. They want to be present for their significant other, their kids, and their friends, but gambling has pulled their attention away from what matters most. They wish they had those months and years back - and they're ready to do something about it.
If you can relate, NPGAP can help.
If you're struggling with gambling, or worried about someone you love, call 1-833-BETOVER (238-6837) or text 402-806-7344 for free, confidential help. When you first reach out, you may feel hopeless, stuck, or worried about your future. But I promise, this is a safe, non-judgmental space where you'll feel heard and supported through every step of this process.
Every client experience is a little different, based on your unique situation and needs. But typically, we follow this general process to help you change your gambling and experience freedom:
Make a plan to stop or reduce your gambling. We'll talk about how gambling has affected your life, and why you want to make this change.
Learn how to overcome your biggest triggers. We'll figure out what triggered you to gamble, and how to reduce your cravings. As you overcome this drive to bet, you'll start to feel your confidence grow and your mind clear.
Develop a strong social support system. It's up to you to take the first step, but your friends and family can help you maintain your new lifestyle. We'll talk about who's on your side and willing to be your accountability partner.
Fix your finances. Finally, we'll make a plan for restructuring your debt, setting up manageable payments, starting a budget, and experiencing financial freedom.
By working with the NPGAP, you can take advantage of the free and convenient resources available to you - and find a way forward without gambling.
Ready to take the first step? Here's how to reach me:
Gambling is around us 24/7. If you or someone you life is struggling with gambling, real change is possible. I know because I've seen it! And while you may feel stuck right now, when you work with a Certified Problem Gambling Professional, like the ones here at NPGAP, you can overcome your triggers and break free from gambling.
You can connect with me, Justin Anton, by calling 1-833-BETOVER (238-6837) or texting 402-806-7344. I've worked with hundreds of NPGAP clients across Nebraska, and I can help you (or someone you love) too.