It’s the biggest sports betting day of the year and that highlights a two-fold problem happening simultaneously when it comes to problem gambling, said Envision Partnerships Chief Operating Officer Kristina Latta-Landefeld.
“Obviously, there’s an increase in access and availability of gambling because of online gambling and sports betting; there’s just a lot more ways for people can gamble so a lot more people are gambling. The other thing it coincides with is that the help that should be available is not really available,” she said.
Latta-Landefeld said treatment is not as available as it should be as gambling, which is considered a silent addiction. It’s oftentimes not recognized until someone puts themself, and many times their family, at serious financial risk.
“It’s something that can be hidden a little bit more as it’s a behavioral addiction as opposed to a physiological addiction,” she said. “People tend to seek out help later, into the problem, as opposed if you relate it to a substance use disorder.”
This is also a chicken-and-the-egg problem because unless someone is asking for help, mental health providers often say there’s not a need because people aren’t asking for it, Latta-Landefeld said. And not asking for help, she said, is a sign of a gambling problem. That’s one reason why Envision Partnerships hosted the Problem Gambling Coalition of Southwest Ohio, which is based out of the University of Cincinnati, last month.
According to Axios, which analyzed state gaming figures, Ohioans bet a collective $7.7 billion in 2023 with sportsbooks pulling in more than $900 million in revenues, which far exceeds the projections outlined in the bill that allowed sports betting in Ohio to begin on Jan. 1, 2023. It projected the impact could generate as much as $24 million a year for Ohio. Steve Bittenbender, who serves as an analyst and writer with BetOhio.com, a news site and affiliate covering the sports-betting industry, told this new agency in December, Ohio “almost surpassed that in January (2023).”
There are 38 states (and Washington, D.C.) with legal sports betting, and 26 states allow online sports betting.
Nationwide, it’s estimated that 2 million adults (which is about 1%) are considered to have a severe gambling problem in a given year. Another 4 million to 6 million would classify they have either a mild or moderate gambling problem, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.
“It’s always been an issue,” said Problem Gambling Network of Ohio Associate Director Michael Buzzelli of gambling in the Buckeye State. “Ohio’s had great services for individuals impacted by gambling for a number of years. A lot of those started in 2010 when we legalized casino gambling, but certainly the rates of problem gambling have risen over the past year due to sports gambling and the proliferation of marketing, the bombardment of marketing. With all that, more people are gambling and you’re seeing more and more problems associated with it.”
And agencies promoting addiction services for problem gambling, also known as gambling disorder, aren’t anti-gambling but Buzzelli said, “We’re all in this together to make sure gambling is safe, fun and responsible for those who choose to do it, but there’s also available resources for those who are impacted by it.”
Problem gambling rates have tripled over the past several years, he said. In 2017, that rate was at 0.9%, but that number is 2.8% of the adult population in Ohio. That’s 255,000 people, he said. And the impacts of problem gambling aren’t just to that quarter-of-a-million Ohioans. It’s compounded as Buzzelli said a person with a gambling disorder negatively impacts eight to 10 people, from spouses and children to friends and co-workers.
“The financial component makes it so big that there are many drastic consequences to the family, the community. You’re talking about the loss of a job, emptying the college fund, losing houses and cars,” he said. “The reach of the consequences really is a web around the life of the person who has the addiction.”
The Problem Gambling helpline has seen an increase in calls. For years, they’d receive 400 to 500 calls a month, and now they’re seeing twice that number. “If you have 1,000 people calling the Problem Gambling helpline every month, that is an indicator that people are really struggling,” he said.
Latta-Landenfeld said most of those hotline calls are from 18-to-21-year-olds, who are people who are not legally allowed to gamble.
ResponsibleGambling.org reports that people between 18 and 24 are at a high risk of developing gambling problems.
“At this age, the brain is still developing, and emotion and logic aren’t fully formed. This means that decision-making ability hasn’t yet matured, making young adults more likely to take risks or act impulsively,” according to the organization.
Problem Gambling Coalition of Southwest Ohio Chair Rachel Johnson said as gambling has evolved into more entertainment, access has evolved and expanded, and education and prevention have become key, she said on Cincinnati Edition on WVXU. “Think before you bet” is not just a mantra, but practical advice.
“That’s the crux of a lot of treatment is working on trying to help that individual person and put a space between the bet and take a step back,” she said. “It’s really about awareness and educating our community.”
Buzzelli said there needs to be more involvement with county mental health and addiction boards and addiction agencies but they don’t have a lot of services for gambling disorder.
“We need to make sure that if gambling is going to be so available and so accessible, we need to make sure services are just as available and just as accessible,” he said.
He also said he’d like to see more colleges and universities be as involved as at U.C. has been with its problem gambling coalition.
“There needs to be programs on campuses, just like there are for drugs and alcohol, just like there are for suicide prevention’” he said. “Problem gambling has to be raised to that level because a lot of these students are doing it, and we got to make sure there are resources there on campus.”
Gambling addiction help
Anyone in need of assistance with a gambling addiction or gambling disorder can call Ohio’s helpline at 800-589-9966. There are also online resources, including at pgnohio.org or ohio.gov/responsible-gambling
Envision Partnerships in Hamilton has multiple pillars, and one of those is gambling addiction. Get more information at envisionpartnerships.org/prevention-pillars/problem-gaming-prevention.html.