With Ohio sports betting set to kick off on Jan. 1, the state is bracing for an increase in problem gambling and has a good idea of what a new problem gambler will look like.
It’s logical to see more problem gambling with such a massive expansion of betting options on the way. But sports betting is going to change the face of the average problem gambler. A look at national data and studies from Ohio and neighboring states show the issue will touch more young men than the state’s gambling population at large.
This reality has led problem gambling professionals to focus prevention and treatment efforts on a younger demographic and to make more responsible gambling services available online.
The good news is that all of these efforts eventually will serve a wider swath of Ohioans by expanding to rural areas and other parts of the state that traditionally have been underserved by in-person services.
Sportsbook apps attract younger bettors
The average sports bettor tends to skew younger and male, according to research by Joshua Grubbs, a professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University. Grubbs recently released the findings of a three-year study on sports betting behaviors and the risk factors that lead to gambling problems.
Grubbs shared the survey results at the 23rd annual International Center for Responsible Gaming Conference on Gambling and Addiction in early October.
The study found the following demographics were associated with a greater likelihood of sports betting:
- More religious
- Of higher income
- Residing in a state with legal sports betting
The final point is important to note. Grubbs said the biggest predictor of sports betting is simply having access to sports betting. And the two dozen or so sportsbook apps on their way to Ohio will be a huge factor in attracting bettors who otherwise would not participate in the state’s gambling options.
“I think that betting from the privacy of your own phone will result in some people developing problems that never otherwise would have,” Grubbs recently told PlayOhio. “I don’t think we are talking about an epidemic where 10% of the population develops a gambling addiction, but I do think we will see slight increases in problem gambling cases.”
Indiana offers a sports betting demographic preview
Indiana legalized sports betting in 2019, and the Indiana University School of Public Health conducted a report on adult gambling behaviors in the state in 2021.
The Indiana survey found statistically significant differences in sports betting participation by men and younger adults:
- Males were more likely to participate in any sports gaming than females.
- Younger adults (18-34 years old) reported more participation in any sports gaming and other gambling activities than older adults.
“Younger individuals (18-34 years) were more likely to report participating in multiple gambling activities,” the report found, “including dice games, other sports betting, card games, games of personal skill, fantasy sports, online gambling, and high-risk trading.”
The prevalence of problem gambling — across all gambling forms — was less than 5% of the adult population in Indiana, but there were significant differences in problem gambling demographics:
- Men reported more pathological gambling than women (6.9% versus 0.5%).
- Younger adults (18-34 years old) were less likely to be grouped into “non-problematic” categories than older adults and more likely to be grouped into “low severity” categories, which are slightly riskier.
These numbers track with national figures. The Pew Research Center released a study in September on U.S. gambling trends. It found that men were more likely than women (24% versus 15%) to have bet on sports during the past year. Adults younger than 50 years old also were more likely than those 50 and older (22% versus 17%) to have participated in some form of sports betting.
There were also race and ethnicity differences. The survey found that Black (27%) and Hispanic adults (24%) are more likely than white (18%) and Asian American adults (10%) to report betting on sports.
There were no significant differences in educational attainment, household income level or political party affiliation.
Problem gambling resources need to be accessible, too
If online sportsbooks are making sports betting more accessible, then problem gambling resources need to follow suit, according to Amanda Blackford, the Ohio Casino Control Commission director of operations and problem gambling services.
“We wanted to make sure that we could respond directly to modality,” Blackford said. “We know with more mobile sports betting and sports betting in the palm of your hand, we had to change some of the resources we were offering to make sure that you could get resources in the palm of your hand as well.”
The OCCC re-evaluated its problem gambling resources with an eye toward incorporating sports betting into its workforce development program and training for clinicians.
It also is working to get more resources online, including the voluntary exclusion program in which residents can ban themselves from gambling facilities (or online gambling) temporarily or permanently. Ohio’s new online voluntary exclusion portal will be called “Time Out Ohio.” In the past, residents had to register themselves for voluntary exclusion in person.
The next step will be statewide gambling addiction telehealth through the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The state is in the final stages of a pilot program and hopes to have telehealth up and running soon.
“We know sports betting and problem gambling is a unique animal,” Blackford said. “It’s very similar to a lot of other substance use and mental health issues, and a lot of time they’re co-current. So you’re struggling with both or we see waves of different struggles. But it’s kind of unique in a lot of ways: the ability to keep it hidden for a lot longer means that by the time somebody does get treatment maybe the severity of the issue is further along.”
Ohio also offers a statewide problem gambling helpline, and the national 1-800-GAMBLER hotline redirects callers from Ohio area codes to the Ohio helpline.
New messaging targeting young people can be expanded across Ohio
Since sports betting will attract new, younger gamblers, Ohio built on its more general problem gambling awareness campaign to focus on sports betting and a younger demographic.
The result is a new messaging campaign aimed at men ages 18-24. “Pause Before You Play” is an offshoot of the state’s “Get Set Before You Bet” campaign. The series of videos are fast-paced with quick edits, showing (often younger) people amidst the excitement of watching and betting on sports.
Those ads are set to run throughout Ohio on TV, radio and in digital formats, in addition to college campuses and sports stadiums.
There is potential for “Pause Before You Play” to become much more than a PSA for college kids, however.
The plan is to develop it into a larger campaign that targets a wider audience and expand into rural areas that are underserved by in-person clinicians and other treatment options. Spreading the word about Ohio’s free resources available online will be critical.
“As ‘Pause Before You Play’ develops and we turn that into what we think will be one of our main campaigns, we’ll start looking at different tool kits,” Blackford said. “How do we make ‘Pause Before You Play relevant for the senior population — is that something that’s necessary? How do we make it relevant for our veteran populations?
“We tend to work that way. We focus on the general campaign first and then focus on each one of our more targeted tool kits in order to make sure that the messaging is still relevant and that we’re still speaking to those individuals that we need to.”
New Michigan guidance advises discussing gambling with ‘tweens’
Ohio isn’t the only state focusing on younger bettors. The Michigan Gaming Control Board is encouraging parents to talk to their kids about problem gambling even before high school. In addition to brick-and-mortar casinos and sports betting, Michigan has offered online casinos, which Indiana and Ohio do not. Michigan paired online casinos with online sports betting in its January 2021 gambling expansion.
“The ‘tween’ years may be the best time to teach children about responsible gaming because about seven out of 10 students ages 14 to 19 will wager money on poker and other games this year,” the Michigan Gaming Control Board said in a statement released Nov. 28.
“Parents should discuss responsible gaming with their children before they attend high school,” said Henry Williams, the board’s executive director, in the release. “National studies have shown young people gamble in betting pools, while on the basketball court sidelines and on video games or even try to do so online or at a casino.”
More studies and research coming to Ohio
The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services conducts a gambling use survey every five years. The current survey is underway but will not be available until early 2023.
The survey results will be used in a variety of ways, according to Derek Longmeier of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio:
- To show a baseline before sports betting launches legally
- To see whether trends have changed since 2017
- To provide regional-specific data
“This last element is particularly important,” Longmeier said, “so we can point out specific trends throughout the state, particularly in communities who don’t have casinos or racinos nearby.”
The 2017 prevalence survey found that since Ohio legalized casino gambling in 2012, problem gambling and at-risk rates had doubled, according to Blackford.
“I don’t know that we’ll see that much of a shift or if we’ll see over that — we don’t know quite what to expect yet,” Blackford said. “We’re trying to get a baseline number for sports betting problem gambling. We’re conducting a survey now to try to get those behavioral baselines so we have a comparison.”
Grubbs, the professor from Bowling Green, also is leading a study of Ohioans’ gambling behavior. That will take place between this fall and next fall.
“We are sampling 2,000 Ohioans this November, matched to statewide norms to make sure our sample is representative, to assess current gambling habits,” Grubbs said. “We will conduct a similar study next fall. I am hoping to compare the two data points to see if there has been an increase in gambling in the state.”