GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While we work through the dog days of summer, lots of sports fans are gearing up for football season. High schoolers are working through “two-a-days,” college teams are preparing for their openers and the NFL’s preseason kicks off Thursday night with the annual Hall of Fame game.
The rush toward football season also means a spike at sportsbooks across the country and more stress for people who deal with gambling addictions.
While soccer is the most popular sport for gamblers across the world, football is tops in the U.S. According to the Sports Encyclopedia, NFL wagers make up nearly half of all sports bets in the country and the Super Bowl is the most commonly bet sports event in the nation.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), one out of every 100 Americans has a severe gambling addiction. In the four years since gambling restrictions were overturned in 2018, researchers have noticed a sharp rise among gambling addiction in teens and young adults.
THE INFLECTION POINT
The world of gambling was thrown off its axis in 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The federal anti-gambling law was signed in 1992 and took effect in 1993. The law banned sports betting outside of four states: Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. Those states were grandfathered in because they already had an established sports betting industry.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie started the movement, challenging the law in 2014. His successor, Phil Murphy, took office in 2018 and continued the push. The Supreme Court ultimately declared the law unconstitutional with a 6-3 vote, allowing other states to implement its own laws for sports gambling.
Business boomed. By May 2022, 35 states including Michigan had legalized some form of sports betting or online gaming. Sportsbooks are taking bets in 30 of those.
According to the American Gaming Association, approximately $57 billion was spent on sports bets in the United States in 2021, up 177% from the 2020 haul of $21.6 billion. Sports betting alone accounted for more than $4 billion in revenue last year for American casinos and sportsbooks.
IMPACT ON TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS
In 2021, the NCPG released the results of a massive survey on the public attitudes toward gambling. More than 28,000 people were surveyed and the study was able to break down more than 170 data points.
Some of the biggest takeaways were that people under the age of 35 were at a higher risk to develop a gambling addiction and that sports bettors were more likely to exude “problematic behavior.”
The NCPG included four common problematic gambling behaviors in the survey: the need to place larger bets to generate excitement, feeling restless or irritable when actively trying to stop gambling, relying on others to pay gambling debts or lying or hiding gambling habits.
According to the survey, 93% of people 75 years and older said no to all four signs of problematic gambling. For the 55-64 age group, the response dropped to 79%. For people between the age of 18 and 35, that number was only 48%.
That’s why for Alia Lucas, the gambling disorder program manager for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the focus on educating the public on gambling addiction is centered on teens and young adults. The main tool? A gambling disorder prevention curriculum called “Stacked Deck.”
“Right now, we are disseminating that curriculum and training for that curriculum to different leaders in the state, to community facilitators, community partners to have it promoted amongst the youth within their regions,” Lucas told News 8.
FOCUSED ON SCHOOLS
Lucas is also working to get the curriculum integrated into school systems because of another set of data points. According to the NCPG survey, between 60% and 80% of high school students admitted to gambling for money in the past year and an estimated 4% to 6% of high schoolers are considered gambling addicts.
Detroit Public Schools, along with Shiawassee, Genesee and Lapeer counties, are serving as a pilot program to teach the “Stacked Deck” curriculum in classrooms and Lucas is in talks with the state education coordinator on expanding it.
Lucas says it’s important that the teachers using the curriculum can connect with students in a way that transcends the classroom.
“When you were in school, who were the cool teachers? The gym teachers, driver’s ed, we’re thinking along the lines of where the relationships lie,” Lucas said. “So we’re working at the state level to strategically focus our messaging and create opportunities for relationships that allow us to get the information into the schools, or at least in front of the prominent authorities that will then be more amenable for us to get it into the schools.”
Virginia has taken a similar tactic. A bill there requiring all public schools to teach students about gambling risks received nearly unanimous support in the state legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Glenn Youngkin in April.
State Delegate Sam Rasoul, who introduced the bill, told Stateline that the rise in youth gambling addiction “is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
“I had some Virginia families contact me saying, ‘This is a problem, what should we do about it?’” Rasoul told Stateline. “(This) is a great step for Virginia.”
There is no bill on gambling addiction curriculum up for consideration in the Michigan Legislature.
Lucas is set to launch another tool that she hopes will help teens and young people dealing with gambling addiction: an anonymous text and chat line.
The state already has a toll-free hotline for people struggling with a gambling addiction, connecting them to trained counselors 24 hours a day. Lucas hopes that by introducing a less personal text-based platform, more people will feel comfortable enough to reach out.
“I think we can all agree that when you think about text and chatting, the demographic that’s going to take advantage of those opportunities are younger adults. It also provides a greater amount of anonymity. It might be easier for someone to simply sit there on their phone and text and chat,” Lucas said.
The platform is set to launch Oct. 1, though there are still some problems to be worked out.
“They have the platform. They are going through implementation training now. They’re developing the way they’re going to disseminate the program,” Lucas said. “But are we going to use the current helpline staff and in their downtime have them answering texts and chats? Or will it be necessary to hire additional staff solely to address that aspect of service delivery.”
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and needs help, you can reach the Michigan Problem Gambling Helpline at 1.800.270.7117.