Big lotto jackpot a danger to gambling addicts

Posted at 6:26 PM, Jan 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-13 18:48:49-05

Big jackpots bring out a big numbers of ticket buyers, but the lottery is a daily gamble for some.

It’s the second leading cause of gambling addiction, and this year, the money meant to help those battling the addiction is falling short.

Rita Ballard says she wouldn’t even think about buying a Powerball ticket. She’s a compulsive gambler in recovery. 

“I guarantee you, in a couple of years, I probably would have nothing, because I know me, I would gamble it away,” she said. "The minute I walked into the casino, it’s like I was hooked.”

She lost her job several years ago and gambled away all of her money, savings, and even several 401k savings. 

With nowhere to go, she called 888-ADMIT-IT for help. It’s the only statewide helpline specifically for people with gambling additions, offered through the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling.

“The thing about these compulsive gamblers is they don’t have money to get professional help,” Ballard said.

The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling is funded in part by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which contributes $1.75 million for treatment.

The state's eight other casinos pay $250,000 each as part of the state’s licensing fee. That’s $2 million, and it's up to lawmakers to decide where it goes. It was originally marked for treatment, but only a portion of that goes to the council, receiving only $930,000 last year. The rest of that money went into the general budget. 

“In order for people to get the help they need for a gambling addition, they have to know that there’s help available,” said Jennifer Kruse, Deputy Director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling.

Kruse says without the money they need, they can’t properly get the word out. She says many people don’t realize the help offered through the hotline.

“That funding is for operation of the helpline, prevention, education, outreach and awareness,” she said.

Ballard says calling hotline and its programs changed her life. It paid for 18 months of addiction counseling, 12-step meetings and help from a financial advisor. Now, she works hard to budget her money.

“I’m in debt still today,” she said.

Ballard also works as a recovery coach to help others and hopes lawmakers this session will think twice before spending money to help gambling addicts elsewhere. 

“I’m hoping somebody hears me and will say, 'Oh, well maybe we should think about reallocating that money to where it can really help people.'” 

Experts say you have a problem if your gambling negatively affects your job, relationships, your health, values or -- of course -- the law.