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After Legal-Gambling Rush, Addiction on the Rise

Legalized sports betting has produced record levels of revenues for two dozen states. But, along with the gusher of money have come a growing chorus of questions about gambling addiction and whether regulators and sportsbooks do enough to fight it, Pew Stateline reports. As more states make moves to legalize online sports betting, experts say they see addiction problems growing among young men. “They pretty quickly got themselves, in a year or two, to where the gambling has created harms in their life,” said Jim Whelan, a psychology professor who runs the Institute for Gambling Education and Research and the University of Memphis Gambling Clinic backed by the state of Tennessee. He said spikes in problem gambling aren’t unprecedented, since they often happen when a new casino opens or a state adds a lottery game, “so I’m a little reluctant to say the sky is falling yet. We fear this is going to create some sort of addiction pandemic. We don’t know if it is or not.”

Ohio launched its legal sports betting market Jan. 1. Immediately, its addiction helpline saw call volumes triple, said Mike Buzzelli, associate director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio. Previously, Buzzelli said, most callers reported that their gambling had been problematic for three to seven years, but now most bettors who call the helpline say they reached a problematic stage in less than a year. So far, according to Whelan and other experts, counselors are finding they can help younger gamblers by using the time-tested behavioral therapy strategies they’ve employed with longtime problem gamblers. In addition, some states and sportsbook operators allow gamblers to put themselves on a “self-exclusion” list that prevents them from gambling for a certain period. Matt Holt is vice chair of the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association and founder and CEO of U.S. Integrity, which contracts with sportsbooks, regulators and sports leagues to help them identify suspicious gambling activity, abnormalities in referees’ calls or the misuse of insider information. Holt said some states rushed their sports betting programs into place because they were desperate for revenue during the confusing early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Everyone was, ‘Legalize, launch, learn,’” Holt said. “We did the first two. Now we’re learning. I think the industry as a whole has embraced the fact that there were probably some holes to fill on the integrity and responsible gaming side.”


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