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Florida gambling helpline is seeing a surge of calls after the launch of a sports betting app

 Amidst legal battles, the Hard Rock Bet app was relaunched late last year.
Kayla Kissel
WUSF photo illustration
Amidst legal battles, the Hard Rock Bet app was relaunched late last year.

If you've turned on the TV or opened social media lately, odds are you've seen a sports betting advertisement.

And in the Sunshine State, the Seminole Tribe of Florida launched a sports betting app that went live last November.

The Hard Rock Bet app originally made its debut in 2021, but shut down after court rulings and a spike in gambling helpline contacts.

The app's Nov. 2023 relaunch has caused concern as the Florida gambling helpline said calls have nearly doubled since then.

The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling Inc., is a nonprofit organization that runs the helpline. Officials said that since December, when access was expanded to everyone 21 and over in Florida, overall contacts — which are defined as calls, texts, and emails — have increased by 100%.

Richard Pinsky, the council's government relations representative in Tallahassee, said that as gambling expands online, it is getting easier to access — and harder to control.

"All they have to do is is pick up their phone and place their bet," Pinsky said. "So the obstacles and and disincentives are no longer in place when you have online accessibility to sports betting."

He added that more than 2% of Florida's population suffers from a gambling behavioral disorder, but what runs deeper is the domino effect of problems that come with it.

Pinsky said a good portion of their helpline contacts come from family or friends of the person with a gambling problem.

"When you run out of money, then you have to turn to other means to get the money," Pinsky said. "There's horrific stories of items from the household being removed and turned into cash, money being lifted from mom's purse and dad's wallet. And you've got spillover into petty crime."

"You begin to think about what that pebble in the water, what that impact is just from one individual that has a disorder that can't be controlled."

Pinsky said younger generations are very susceptible to the persuasion of online gambling.

"You already have young people being very accustomed to living by their mobile phone. Add in how easy it is to add in that daily component of sports betting," Pinsky said. "I would suppose that the younger demographic actually raises the number of folks in Florida to as high as 4% of the national average."

The council is hoping Florida lawmakers will pay attention to how much of a problem online gambling has become in upcoming legislative sessions.

"I would hope that in the future, the legislature also recognizes the same way we did it with tobacco, that that younger population needs to be more regulated, as well as the funding and the services and all the things that go along with the expansion of gambling that we are experiencing in the state of Florida," Pinsky said.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling’s help line is 888-ADMIT-IT.

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Kayla Kissel