At the start of the new Double Down Michigan podcast produced by the Michigan Gaming Control Board, there’s a jazzy little riff reminiscent of early 1980s public-access cable, with a few sound effects sprinkled in that sound like slot machines whirring away.
Then, a lighthearted female-sounding voice comes on to promise what’s to come in the monthly podcast.
“On the Double Down Michigan podcast, we explore topics related to the gaming industry in Michigan,” the voice says. “Host Henry Williams, Michigan Gaming Control Board executive director, discusses responsible gaming, the latest gaming legislation in our state, industry news, latest trends, and more. We feature special guests from the gaming industry, so you can get the inside scoop.”
Aside from the music and introduction, you’re not going to find a lot of special effects or nods to production value on the new podcast. You won’t find segmented programming either. What you will find is plenty of straight talk that could greatly benefit anyone who wonders whether they have a gambling addiction or anyone who cares about someone who does.
The first two episodes deal entirely with problem gambling issues and responsible gambling suggestions. Future episodes likely will focus more on industry trends and legislation. But anyone seeking more information about gambling’s hazards would be smart to listen to the first two episodes.
“One of the problems that we have is people don’t talk about gambling,” said Michael Burke, a problem gambling expert, on the second episode. “It’s that hidden little secret in the families and we normally hear about it when there’s an arrest made, a divorce, a bankruptcy file, a suicide. It’s the number one cause of suicide of all the addictions. That’s when we normally first hear about it, when it’s too late.”
Episode One: Sandra Johnson
On the first episode of the podcast, Williams and MGCB Responsible Gaming Manager Sandra Johnson have a pleasant 17-minute conversation about the latest research and programs available to the state’s gamblers looking to find their action responsibly. It’s packed full of valuable information.
Johnson has been in her position for more than 20 years, so she has seen gambling’s growth in Michigan from the early days of the Detroit casinos to the launch of mobile sports betting in 2021. Her office, she says, once had a staff of one — her — but has now grown to six.
The episode susses out the semantic differences between responsible and problem gambling, gives tips for using self-exclusion lists for both mobile betting and the commercial casinos, and discusses the growth of responsible gambling work in Michigan. On the second episode, guest Burke calls Johnson “one of the best things ever to hit the state of Michigan. She does incredible work for gamblers.”
Johnson offers advice to anyone leaving the house to head to a casino or lining up their bets for that day’s slate of games.
“Patrons who gamble should not use gambling as a source of income, first and foremost,” Johnson says. “Only gamble with money that you can afford to lose. Set time and money limits, which you can do online, because the platform providers offer the options directly on their site, in addition to timeouts and cooling-off periods. There are methods individuals can use to help themselves.”
Johnson also discusses the amendment to Michigan law that now allows gamblers to self-exclude for up to five years. Previously, the only option was a lifetime ban, which her staff found was serving as an impediment discouraging gamblers from using it.
More information and the forms for self-exclusion can be found on the MGCB’s website.
Episode Two: Michael Burke
Williams’ second conversation is with Burke, a former gambling addict who spent three years in a state prison for embezzlement to feed his compulsion decades ago and now is among the state’s staunchest crusaders against problem gambling. This episode runs much longer — about 52 minutes — but it is a captivating conversation.
Burke discusses the importance of taking advantage of self-exclusion lists.
“I’ve always had a picture in my mind of a gambler calling to get information on a [self-exclusion] list with his wife standing there with a baseball bat in her hand,” Burke says. “They don’t know what they’re getting into, but once they do and once they start getting their life back and their family back … It’s saved thousands of people in our state.”
Burke, a prominent Michigan lawyer before his fall from grace, discusses his decades-long gambling addiction, which started out as a few yearly trips to Las Vegas and became bi-weekly hour-long drives to Windsor Casino in Ontario. He talks about how he kept borrowing money from a client who had won the Michigan Lottery until he realized he simply couldn’t pay it back.
He owed the client more than $300,000, and after being threatened with exposure by the client’s lawyer, he dipped into his clients’ escrow account to begin making payments.
“The saying is, ‘The chains of addiction are too weak to be felt until they’re too strong to be broken,’” Burke says. “I was hooked, I was done. I was going into my clients’ account, taking money, and here’s somebody who was raised by lawyers. I knew when I was seven years old that a lawyer never takes money.”
As host, Williams has a minimalist, laid-back style that worked well in both of the first two episodes. He got out of the way to allow Johnson to lay out the state’s array of responsible gambling services and he gave Burke the space he needed to tell his moving redemption story.
More diversity of topics in future episodes would be nice. The MGCB promises guests including government officials, tribal community representatives, and addiction and industry leaders. But for now, Double Down Michigan, which is available on Amazon Music, Apple podcasts, iHeart Radio, Podcast Index, and Spotify, is a welcome addition to a crowded gambling podcast space.
This one has the kind of information gamblers should always be able to access at the push of a play button.
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