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    Oyauma Garrison Writes Op-Ed on Sports Betting ‘Illusion of Control’

    Opinion: Move over Santa! Sports betting is coming to town with ‘illusion of control’

    This jolly old elf may look very merry and offer gifts of new revenues to the state. However, this isn’t really St. Nick. There’s a not-so-hidden underbelly to consider,” Oyauma Garrison

    Oyauma Garrison, Guest columnist
    Columbus Dispatch, Published Dec. 27, 2022

    Oyauma Garrison is president and CEO of Maryhaven, an addiction treatment and behavioral health provider.

    The billboards dot Ohio freeways and byways.

    The ads pop up every commercial break during every Buckeye game.

    One right after another. It’s quite clear: Santa Claus has left town and now sports betting is coming.

    This jolly old elf may look very merry and offer gifts of new revenues to the state. However, this isn’t really St. Nick. There’s a not-so-hidden underbelly to consider.

    What’s underneath is a lesson we see every day at Maryhaven, a behavioral health and addiction treatment provider that has served more than 300,000 Central Ohioans.

    Whether gambling, drugs or alcohol, addictions deceive us.

    Maryhaven has been working with problem gamblers since before the casinos opened more than 10 years ago. Back then, a statewide survey showed that more than 5% of Ohioans were found “at risk” for problem gambling. By 2017, just five years after the casinos opened across the state, that number had doubled.

    Let me repeat: One in 10 of those who gamble face higher probability of developing a gambling problem.

    And while we await the 2022 Ohio survey results, we know from the experience of other states that whatever the survey pegs as our new “at risk” percentage, it will increase with the onset of legal sports betting.

    The ecosystem as sports betting enters Ohio differs greatly from the one casinos entered back in 2012. While many will place their sports bets by traveling to a physical location, this number is sure to be dwarfed by those using mobile devices.

    Research shows that proximity matters. The easier your access to gambling, the more people who fell prey to problem gambling.

    So, imagine the outcomes when all you need to place a bet is the phone in your pocket?

    Outside of proximity and convenience, sports betting also offers an enticement that most other forms of gambling do not: The illusion of control.

    You can study the players, evaluate the coaching tendencies, check the weather, get updates on the injury report – anything to get a leg up.

    You can fool yourself into believing that your superior intelligence will win the day. However, in the end, random bounces, blown calls and a reliance on third-party athletes to have a bad day — myriads of random reasons — lead to disaster or victory.

    Many start with this illusion and then, sadly, the day comes when they can’t stop. Just look at the jump in calls to gambling helplines in our neighboring states, who have already authorized sports betting.

    That state up north, for example, saw calls nearly triple in just the first year of legal sports wagering.

    Our own Bruce Jones, who has led the Maryhaven Gambling Intervention Program since its inception, notes that it’s not always the gambler calling for help, but a friend or family member. In fact, thanks to the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, Maryhaven expanded our program years ago to serve loved ones who also can suffer from financial and mental health issues because of someone else’s gambling addiction.

    Often times, these calls come in after the gambler has racked up significant debt or might be having suicidal ideations. After all, unlike a drug or alcohol addiction, there aren’t the same physical indicators, no obvious warning signs, to alert others that a problem exists.

    Our team is trained to help uncover the underlying causes and conditions and connect the gambler and their loved ones to treatment, support groups and additional services, like financial counseling. We often find that people with gambling issues also are experiencing another mental health concern, like depression or substance abuse. The best counselors have the experience and expertise to identify and help lead a treatment plan that responds to all of a person’s needs.

    For more than a decade now in Ohio, we’ve touted a strong working relationship between addiction treatment providers and the casinos, racinos and various operators who now stand to earn literally billions from sports betting next year. It’s my hope that these operators will continue to work with us to offer needed protections moving forward.

    Even more importantly, consumers will have to look out for one another. Is there someone you know that might need to talk with our team about their habits? A family member who is spending too much time thinking about their next bet?

    Make sure they get the help they need before it’s too late. Waiting to intervene is simply not worth the gamble.

    Oyauma Garrison is president and CEO of Maryhaven, an addiction treatment and behavioral health provider.