As the doors of Bally’s temporary casino swing open in the heart of River North, addiction treatment experts in Chicago are preparing for a potential surge in people seeking help for gambling disorders. The new casino, which opened last month, is expected to make gambling more accessible to Chicagoans, potentially leading to an increase in individuals dealing with addiction.
For Darren G., a marketing executive in his 50s who battled a gambling addiction, the inconvenience of having to travel to casinos was a crucial barrier. “Any distance or obstacle you can put between yourself and the casino is a good thing,” he emphasized. However, with the opening of Bally’s casino just a 10-minute trip away, the hurdles have significantly diminished.
Darren, who estimates losing over $94,000 during the depths of his gambling addiction, now relies on the support of a sponsor and a support group to resist the temptation of the nearby casino. Still, he’s aware that the proximity is making it easier for some problem gamblers and fears that it will lead to more people realizing they have a gambling problem.
Addiction treatment experts in the Chicago area echo these concerns. While there hasn’t been an immediate surge in individuals seeking help for gambling disorders since the opening of Bally’s, experts anticipate a gradual increase, much like what has been observed following previous gaming expansions in Illinois.
Anita Pindiur, the executive director of Way Back Inn, a Maywood treatment center specializing in recovery programs for alcohol, substance abuse, and gambling disorders, explained that the introduction of new gaming venues often leads to new problems. She emphasized that while many visitors to the new casino may have a harmless experience, statistical evidence suggests that a portion will develop gambling-related issues.
The Way Back Inn experienced an uptick in clients about six months after the opening of Rivers Casino in 2011, and a similar trend occurred after the launch of video gaming terminals statewide. Pindiur noted that over the past few years, more than a quarter of individuals seeking help at Way Back Inn were directly influenced by sports betting, legalized alongside the authorization of the Chicago casino and five others statewide in 2019.
As the city embraces its newest entertainment hub, the concerns over the potential impact on gambling addiction highlight the need for increased awareness, support, and treatment options for those affected by compulsive gambling behaviors.