DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — Since sports betting was legalized 10 months ago in Ohio, calls to the problem gambling helpline have gone up 70%. 

Out of any addiction, gambling has the highest suicide rate. Nearly 40% of people who experience a gambling disorder will consider suicide. 

That’s what happened to 71-year-old Paul Estep.

“I started out, I think, playing penny ante poker with the family,” says Paul.

Once he turned 18, he started shooting pool for money. Later on in life, he played scratch-offs and poker machines.

“It just seemed like every month when I got my check, my check would last about a day –gambling. And I just couldn’t stop,” describes Paul. “I begged, borrowed and stole. I got into trouble with the authorities because I did a lot of shoplifting, and I had been in a few Dumpsters because that’s kind of where it takes you.”

He continued to spiral out of control.

“I was into drugs and alcohol, and I needed help to stop,” states Paul. “I lost my family. I lost my job. I lost my car. I lost my license. I lost everything.”

Paul contemplated taking his own life.

“I had thought about running my car into like, a solid wall or something. And there was one time when I was headed for that wall,” admits Parul.

But Paul stopped himself and reached out for help.

“Today, I have a promise of the future. I’m not ashamed of myself anymore. There’s a lot of shame and guilt that goes along with that,” says Paul.

Tristyn Ball is the Director of Prevention and Early Intervention Services for Montgomery County ADAMHS.

“There’s a huge overlap unfortunately between the number of individuals that have gambling disorders and contemplating suicide,” says Tristyn. “Individuals just feel this sense of hopelessness when they do have a gambling disorder, generally because of finances.” 

She says more than 10% of Montgomery County is at risk for problem gambling.

“Similar to alcohol, people build tolerance. So they may need to spend more money to feel excited or for it to feel fun,” states Tristyn. “We want to make sure if you notice that with one of your friends or family members, that we’re intervening as early as possible.”

Ohio has launched the Pause Before You Play campaign. There are also helplines available for people 24/7. All it takes is that first step.

The number for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is 988. The gambling helpline is 1-800-589-9966.

“Go get help. What you find is a lot of friends and a lot of support,” encourages Paul.

Paul has been in recovery for about the last two years. He gets therapy and has a couple meetings a week.