The number of calls to Ohio’s Problem Gambling Helpline has risen for a fifth straight year, according to a new report — and counselors are bracing for a new surge with the rollout of legalized betting on sports.
March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and for that Ohio for Responsible Gambling released a report on gambling trends. Ohio for Responsible Gambling is an initiative of four state agencies, led by the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services.
Slot machines, lottery tickets and casino table games are the most common reasons for calls to their helpline, in that order.
But that’s likely to change. A 2017 survey by the Ohio mental health department found that one-fourth of sports bettors are at risk of developing a gambling problem, compared to one-tenth of those who gamble on other things, he said.
“The sports bettor is unique,” said Scott Anderson, DMHAS problem gambling treatment coordinator.
A demographic survey found today’s Ohio gamblers are often young, single, and with below-average education and income, he said.
“The sport bettor was the exact opposite of that,” Anderson said. They’re often older, well-educated and with higher incomes — believing they have a “system” for winning, he said.
“So it’s going to be a new crop,” Anderson said.
His studies have shown that the opening of brick-and-mortar casinos and racinos roughly doubled the number of Ohioans at risk of gambling problems, and he expects that trend to continue with the availability of sports betting — not just at physical establishments, but on smartphone apps, payable by credit card.
“We have so much access to whatever it is (that) we do too much of,” Anderson said. “It’s in your hand all the time. It’s in your pocket all the time. You’re going to have a painless way to hit ‘yes, yes, yes’ all the time.”
People will be able to bet not just on entire games but on individual plays, increasing the “velocity” of betting, allowing losses or wins to add up quickly, Anderson said. Both losing and winning can tempt people to bet more, he said.
On some gambling apps, players can pre-set limits on time or money, but not all, Anderson said. Some will send users a warning when their play accelerates, but others will encourage people to play more, he said.
“There’s going to be an incredible amount of data collected,” Anderson said. “They can use it as a marketing mechanism as well.”
Ohio legislators wrangled for years on whether or how to legalize sports betting. On Dec. 9, 2021, the General Assembly approved it, and Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill Dec. 22.
Bets will be allowed on professional sports, college sports and esports teams, but betting on horse racing will remain confined to established pari-mutuel betting at racetracks.
Three levels of licenses will be issued:
—One for professional sports organizations and existing casinos, likely in partnership with a sportsbook company to manage betting.
—One for brick-and-mortar facilities with betting terminals and windows. Those facilities, allocated according to county population and economy, may partner with one betting management company. They’re expected to mostly be at existing casinos and racinos.
—One for self-service or clerk-operated gaming kiosks that can be installed in bars, bowling alleys and restaurants with liquor permits.
The state estimates that sports betting will be a $1.1 billion industry in Ohio in its first year or so of operation, growing to $3.35 billion within a few years. The state Casino Control Commission is working to roll out details of licensure and operation by fall 2022.
“All types of sports gaming must be allowed to start at the same time,” no later than Jan. 1, 2023, according to a presentation on the issue given at the casino commission meeting Dec. 15.
The bill imposes a 10% tax on sports gaming receipts. Of that, 98% will go to fund public and nonpublic education through General Assembly appropriations, with half to go on sports and other extracurricular activities.
The remaining 2% will go to programs to combat gambling addiction. That money will be welcome, but it’s impossible to say how far it will go, Anderson said.
“The honest answer is we don’t know how much money it’s going to take (in) or what we’ll see,” he said. “We just know that were doing everything proactively we can ahead of it.”
How Ohio is preparing
Anticipating an upsurge of need, Ohio officials are in contact with surrounding states that have already implemented sports gambling, Anderson said.
“We’ve listened to what problems they’ve found,” he said.
One that emerged during the Super Bowl was that some gambling apps didn’t list customer service numbers, so frustrated bettors started calling problem-gambling helplines, he said.
To prevent that in Ohio, the state will put together a public campaign on what the helpline actually does and how to use it, Anderson said.
In the past few years the state mental health department has created a credential for social work with a specialty in problem gambling, he said. Now clinician training on sports betting is ramping up.
“We’re bringing in sports-specific experts to Ohio,” Anderson said.
Derek Longmeier, executive director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio, has called legal sports betting “certainly the biggest expansion of gambling that Ohio has ever seen.”
The Problem Gambling Network of Ohio is a nonprofit group that works with state agencies and provides problem gambling treatment. When sports gambling rolls out, Longmeier hopes to have the helpline number appear on smartphone gambling apps, perhaps popping up when someone exceeds a set spending limit.
“There’s a difference between responsible entertainment and potentially destructive behavior,” Stacey Frohnapfel-Hasson, DMHAS prevention chief, said in a news release. “Most Ohioans aren’t aware of how many people are at risk in their communities.”
People with gambling problems may also be at higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems and suicidal thoughts, she said.
The state maintains a voluntary exclusion list of people barred from gambling facilities, Anderson said. About 6,200 people have participated since its 2012 beginning, with 882 added in fiscal 2021, according to the Ohio for Responsible Gambling report. Twice as many men as women are involved.
Every casino and racino has “some sort of exclusion list,” Anderson said. Plus each of those properties has an internal list of people barred from the company’s properties nationwide.
“Those lists actually contain a lot more people globally than we see here in Ohio,” he said.
People can ask to be removed from exclusion lists ― perhaps they want to attend a non-gambling event that’s held on a casino property, Anderson said. People can get off the state exclusion list after one year just by asking, and off of some gaming industry lists; but if they put themselves on a company’s exclusion list for a second time, that’s permanent, he said.
How to get help
The gambling helpline is available 24/7 at 800-589-9966, or at www.Beforeyoubet.org. For information on the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio, go to www.pgnohio.org.