Ohio Gambling Addiction Hotline Calls Up 55% Following Jan. 2023 Sports Betting Launch

Written By Mike Breen on April 10, 2024
Ohio Gambling Addiction Hotline Calls

In Ohio’s first year of legalized sports betting, the state’s gambling addiction helpline saw a 55% increase in calls. According to the Ohio for Responsible Gambling Organization, 10,637 calls came into the hotline in 2023, compared to 6,835 in 2022. 

This increase aligns with nationwide trends following other state sports betting launches. Still, Michael Buzzelli, the associate director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio, says there is some concern regarding the surge.

In an ORG press release announcing the 2023 helpline numbers, Buzzelli said: 

“While we knew calls would increase and anticipated this due to the increases seen in other states already operating sports betting, such a dramatic increase was surprising and lets us know there is a lot of work still to be done for responsible gambling advocates statewide.”

Ohio gambling addiction hotline calls level off after early surge

Thirty-eight states currently allow some form of sports betting. In states that have legalized sports wagering, there is often an immediate surge in helpline calls after launch. The Buckeye State, where Ohio sports betting launched on Jan. 1, 2023, saw a 227% increase in the number of helpline calls in Jan. 2023 compared to Jan. 2022 call volume.

While the helpline still received many more calls on a month-to-month basis than in 2022, that early surge leveled off as the year continued. In December 2023 there were 1,013 calls — compared to 635 calls in December 2022 — a 59% increase.

Sports betting accessibility in Ohio & beyond leads to increased risks

The increase in Ohio helpline calls can be attributed to a few different factors. The most obvious is the sheer accessibility of sports betting in Ohio, allowing practically anyone in the state who’s over the age of 21 to wager from a mobile device.

Last year, Amanda Blackford, the Ohio Casino Control Commission’s director of operations and problem gambling services, warned in a press release: 

“Technology lets anyone bet anywhere with cell phone reception. The ability to place multiple bets in real-time with no safeguards can quickly lead to catastrophic losses.” 

That accessibility leads to an uptick in problem gambling risks. According to ORG, nearly 1 in 5 Ohio adults — more than 1.8 million people — are considered at risk for developing gambling problems. In the past year, the number of people in Ohio estimated to have a gambling problem has increased to 2.8%, approximately 255,000 residents, ORG said in a March press release.

Advertising in Ohio & nationwide contributes to helpline awareness

Another factor in the increase in calls is the more widespread promotion of Ohio’s problem gambling helpline number, 1-800-589-9966. 

Ohio responsible gambling initiatives, like Pause Before You Play, have helped direct people to problem gambling prevention and treatment services, including the helpline, via awareness-raising campaigns across multiple forms of media.  

Ohio laws around sportsbook advertising likely also played a part in raising awareness for the helpline number. While sportsbook commercials and online advertising increase traffic to the operators, it also puts the helpline number in front of more eyes and ears.

According to Rule 3772-13-02 of the Ohio Administrative Code, all advertisements for gambling products in the state must “clearly and conspicuously state the problem gambling hotline number.” 

Most gambling addiction hotline calls are from people legitimately seeking assistance

Some calls to Ohio’s helpline might not be directly related to problem gambling concerns. Many sportsbook advertisements market the hotline as a problem gambling hotline rather than one for those struggling with potential gambling addiction problems. This has led to a number of people calling the helpline in search of technical assistance with their sportsbook apps and accounts.

However, most Ohio hotline calls are from people legitimately seeking help for a possible gambling disorder. Jessica Franks, the OCCC’s director of communications, told PlayOhio last year: 

“While there are some calls to the helpline that involved patrons with complaints or issues with their accounts, the majority have been individuals looking for information on resources or to connect directly with a trained counselor using our warm transfer program.”

Ohio’s warm transfer program, launched in 2020, ensures that anyone who calls the helpline can be connected to a trained specialist 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

Ohio for Responsible Gambling noted in a recent press release that problem gambling helpline data showed Ohioans seeking treatment for problem gambling increased 67% from 2022 to 2023.

Ohio helpline call volume increase parallels other states

The more than doubling of calls to Ohio’s problem gambling hotline in 2023 is either similar to or less than the increases seen in some other states that have legalized sports betting.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, which operates the nationwide 1-800-GAMBLER problem gambling helpline, confirmed in a recent NBC News report that there has been an uptick in calls nationally due to the continuing rollout of sports betting across the county. 

Whyte told the news outlet: 

“We believe, nationwide, the rate and severity of gambling problems have increased across the United States since 2018. We have every reason to believe the growth of online sports betting is a major contributing factor to the increase in gambling problems.”

In 2022, the first full year of legal sports betting in Connecticut, the state’s problem gambling helpline saw a 91% increase in calls, according to the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania helpline call numbers have fluctuated since launching online casinos in 2019 and online sports betting launched in 2020. Calls from Pennsylvania to 1-800-GAMBLER increased by about 58% from 2019 to 2021. But then the state saw about a 19% decrease in call volume in 2022, followed by a 27% increase last year.

Photo by Dreamstime / PlayOhio
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Mike Breen

Mike Breen covers Ohio’s budding sports betting industry for PlayOhio, focusing on online sportsbooks and the state’s responsible gambling initiatives. He has over two decades of experience covering sports, news, music, arts and culture in Ohio.

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