OCCC Presents Five W’s Of Problem Gambling Work In Ohio 

Written By Mike Breen on March 20, 2023
Responsible Gambling Ohio Problem Gambling

At the Ohio Casino Control Commission’s most recent monthly meeting, Amanda Blackford, the OCCC’s director of operations & problem gambling services, gave a presentation about Ohio’s ongoing efforts to promote responsible gambling practices and provide problem gambling prevention and treatment resources

Blackford’s presentation at the March 15 meeting came in the middle of Problem Gambling Awareness Month. It also marked the first monthly meeting for a few new commissioners, including new OCCC chair Tom Stickrath.

Executive Director Matt Schuler described Blackford’s presentation as the, “Who, What, When, Where, Why of Problem Gambling.”

Ohio Gambling Survey Uses Canadian Problem Gambling Index

Blackford recapped data gleaned from the Ohio Gambling Survey, a survey of Ohio residents conducted every five years by Ohio for Responsible Gambling, a coalition that includes input from agencies like the OCCC, the Ohio Lottery Commission and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. 

The surveys utilize the Canadian Problem Gambling Index, which includes a series of questions to identify risk levels for individuals. 

The survey includes questions like:

  • Have you bet more than you could really afford to lose? 
  • Have you needed to gamble with larger amounts of money to get the same feeling of excitement?
  • When you gambled, did you go back another day to try to win back the money you lost?
  • Has your gambling caused any financial problems for you and your household?
  • Have you felt guilty about the way you gamble or what happens when you gamble?

The answers to the questions are used to determine if the individual is a non-problem gambler, low-risk gambler, moderate-risk gambler or problem gambler. 

Survey showed problem gambling rates doubled after casinos debuted

The first Ohio Gambling Survey was conducted in 2012 to get a statewide representation of the prevalence of at-risk and problem gamblers. The initial study was done before Ohio’s casinos and racinos first opened, in order to get a baseline. 

“Five years later, after the casinos had opened, we repeated the survey using the same measure, same questions,” Blackford shared. “And what we found is that the problem gambling rates had doubled.”

In the 2017 survey, with the boost from casino/racino availability, the analysis found that those surveyed who were identified as non-problem gamblers increased from 53% (in 2012) to 64.6%. Those identified as low-risk gamblers increased from 4.2% to 6.4%, while the number of people determined to be at moderate risk for a gambling problem increased from 1.1% to 3.0%. 

Those surveyed who were determined to have a gambling problem jumped from .4% in 2012 to .9% in 2017

Next survey to show risk rates pre-sports betting

“So with the expansion of gambling, we also see an expansion of issues,” said Blackford, who later told the commission that the most recent Ohio Gambling Survey was completed ahead of Ohio’s Jan. 1 launch of legal sports betting statewide

She said the numbers from the 2022 survey would provide another baseline set of statistics ahead of sports betting’s introduction in the state. Blackford said the 2022 surveys were still being analyzed and that they’d be shared with the commission at a later date. 

Blackford shared a slide in her presentation that stated that the number of Ohioans at-risk for a gambling problem was more than the population of Columbus. According to the 2021 census, Columbus’ population is 906,528.

Another slide Blackford shared claimed that more people in Ohio meet the criteria for having a gambling problem than could fit in Ohio State’s football stadium. The Shoe’s seating capacity is 102,780.

“That number is staggering,” Blackford said.  

“The Ohio model” of problem gambling treatment, prevention nationally recognized

But, Blackford added, there was a bright side to the numbers from the surveys.

“Our prevalence numbers are actually significantly lower than the national average,” Blackford said. “And our rate of problem gambling is at about 1%. The national average is actually double that.”

Blackford said having problem gambling numbers lower than the national average is due to the work done by Ohio for Responsible Gambling and the problem gambling advisory board of Ohio. She said Ohio’s approach to treatment and prevention is known nationally as “the Ohio model.” 

Blackford said part of the success is due to how the OCCC and the other state agencies work together to allocate funds generated from gambling. When casinos/racinos entered the state it was determined that 2% of the tax funds would be dedicated to problem gambling services. Similarly, 2% of the taxes generated from sports betting are also being used for problem gambling services.

“We at the Commission have (worked with the other agencies) to make sure we’re aiming those funds at what will make a true difference,” Blackford said. “Obviously, we can’t be in all of our communities at once, but we can talk to the providers of those communities who know what’s working for their communities and know what’s not and can give us better direction for policy, for funding and for purpose.”

State looks to improve telehealth options for problem gambling treatment

Blackford said the state is currently looking to improve telehealth options so that those with gambling problems have more opportunity for help.

“We can form a problem gambling statewide telehealth practice that engages with all of the areas that currently are kind of dead zones for treatment,” Blackford said. “Especially our rural counties where maybe somebody didn’t have a casino near them before, but now they have mobile sports betting that’s easy to pick up in their pocket and engage with.”

“As the gambling industry changes, the needs of the community change,” she added. “And so we have to change as well.”

Blackford said one recent example of that was the overhaul of Ohio’s voluntary exclusion program just ahead of the state’s sports betting launch. The program gives someone who may recognize their own gambling problem developing the ability to ban themselves from casinos, racinos and sportsbooks, both online and at retail outlets. 

Ohio’s voluntary exclusion program is now called “TimeOut Ohio” and it is, for the first time, now accessible online.

“By pushing that fully online, somebody no longer has to come and meet with us in person — they can sign up on their phone,” Blackford said. “It’s been a significant help to those individuals who maybe it was difficult to get to us before.”

The TimeOut Ohio program added 150 more people since expanding to include sports betting. The program has more than 4,700 participants total. 

Responsible gambling campaigns reaching different communities

Blackford touted Ohio’s “award-winning statewide awareness campaigns” as another successful component of ORG’s public initiatives. 

ORG’s “Get Set Before You Bet” campaign has shifted to its current “Pause Before You Play” campaign, Blackford explained. The campaign, introduced two days prior to the Jan. 1 sports betting launch, is about “encouraging individuals at a state level to gamble responsibly, but to also engage in healthy lifestyle choices,” Blackford said. 

There are also ORG campaigns that target different demographics, including ones specifically tailored for seniors, veterans and African Americans

ORG recently introduced the “Change the Game” campaign. 

“The Change the Game campaign is a youth influencer campaign, where we’re talking to parents and teachers to engage in the conversation,” Blackford said. “What does youth gambling look like? Is it video gaming (with) in-app purchases? Or is it something more serious?”

The various campaigns include advertisements, which you’ll see on TV and social media sites, as well as toolkits, which treatment and prevention specialists across Ohio can adapt to their community’s needs.

Problem Gambling Helpline sees uptick in calls

Blackford wrapped up her presentation with some words on Ohio’s Problem Gambling Helpline. According to ORG’s recent report on its use, the helpline saw a 227% increase in the number of calls in January 2022 compared to January 2023.

Blackford explained how the Problem Gambling Helpline is staffed 24 hours a day and has warm-transfer capabilities, meaning anyone who needs to speak to a professional can be transferred to one right away.

“So (the caller) can talk to a specialist, and it works towards destigmatizing treatment,” Blackford said. “They get to talk to somebody that day, who can maybe talk them down from a crisis moment or engage with them with further offerings.”

Blackford said the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline is also plugged into the national problem gambling number, 1-800-Gambler

“So if they’re calling (800-Gambler) from Ohio, they’ll get fed into our line directly, and get the help that they need in the services that they need,” she said. 

21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER

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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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