About six months into legal sports betting in Ohio, those who help people struggling with gambling addiction are seeing an increased need for their services.
The most recent numbers from the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio (PGNO) show the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline received 754 contacts in May; this is in comparison to 523 last May, when legal sports betting was not live.
“We knew there would be an increased demand on services, and even though we knew that, we’re still kind of astounded at what that increase looks like, but we are continuing to work diligently to make sure help truly is available to all Ohioans,” Derek Longmeier, executive director of PGNO, said.
While calls are down from their highest points, which were in the first three months of the year, he said they are still higher than at any point last year.
“We know that demand for services has increased, and we know that by calls to the Ohio problem gambling helpline,” Longmeier said. “We saw a big spike at January when sports betting launched. That’s curtailed a little bit, but the numbers are still much higher than they were pre-sports betting.”
He also said the network has noticed overall, people are not waiting as long to call about a problem. Longmeier said another difference this year has been that they’ve had more younger people reaching out for help. That’s something Bruce Jones, administrative coordinator for Gambling Intervention Program at Maryhaven, has noticed too.
“I’m seeing a lot more people and the stories I hear are just horrendous,” Jones said. “The thing is a lot of them are young. College students. They’ve blown through their college money. So they’re having to get a job now, in order to be able to have extra money for food and whatnot.”
He said his caseload has tripled since January, with the majority of the new cases being people having addiction issues related to sports betting.
“Devastation,” Jones said. “With a gambler, sports betting or any gambler, they start chasing their losses. So they might be up on some of their sports bets and then lose, and then try to catch up and it just progresses. A destructive spiral out of control and because a lot of the times their family members or their spouses, they don’t know the extent of the gambling, only the gambler knows. So by the time they come for help, there’s a lot of damage done.”
Jones said part of the problem is how accessible sports betting is.
“I think it all looked good on paper when they decided to legalize the sports betting, but now that it’s here, I think we’ll see a lot more unfortunately negative pieces to the sports betting,” he said.