This weekend, millions of Americans will watch the Super Bowl as the Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas. Before kickoff on Sunday night, another phenomenon prepares to garner attention too: the expansion of online sports betting.
Ohio legalized sports betting in 2023.
In its first year of legalization, Ohioans wagered a staggering $7.6 billion on sports betting between online, mobile, and in-person wagering, generating more than $125 million in tax revenue for 2023, according to the Ohio Casino Control Commission. The commission notes this amount “does not include the kiosks at bars/restaurants/etc. – those are regulated by the Ohio Lottery Commission.”
This year, the spotlight isn't just on the "big game" but also on the risks associated with sports betting addiction.
This year’s Super Bowl will no doubt be filled with football, snacks, celebrity sightings, and advertisements encouraging people to place a bet through an online sportsbook, including through apps on smartphones.
According to a 2022 Ohio Gambling Survey, more than 250,000 Ohioans have a gambling problem. The Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline reports in January 2022, 456 contacts were made to the helpline. In January 2023, the first month that sports betting was legal in the state, 1,492 contacts were made to the helpline. In January 2024, 961 contacts were made to the helpline.
Dr. Christine Wilder is the medical director for U.C. Health Addiction Services. She explained how placing bets on a smartphone during a sporting event can contribute to addictive behavior.
Dr. Wilder emphasizes the need for a pre-game plan to keep bettors within their limits. "Online gambling on your phone is about as accessible as you can get," Wilder notes, highlighting the seamless transition from spectator to active participant.
“There's absolutely no barrier between you and gambling. And then the other thing that is different than, say, a lot of the older types of gambling is you can sit on your phone and you're watching the Super Bowl or whatever, and you can literally make bets on plays that are about to occur. And so the frequency of the rewards that you're getting or even the losses and then another reward is really rapid. And so that's a lot of what contributes to how addictive something is.”
This ease, coupled with the rapid rewards of in-play bets, significantly contributes to the addictive nature of sports betting, particularly among young adults and college students who might not recognize the early signs of a gambling disorder.
Wilder explained the roller coaster of emotions that can be associated with sports gambling, especially as more people cast bets on their phones or computers.
“So it's being promoted as something that's fun and it's like a fun amusement, but it's not actually it. It leads to people getting isolated and depressed," Wilder said. "They're more anxious. They’re worried about money. They're not spending as much time with other people and they're feeling bad about themselves because they're losing money. It's very hard to keep track on these games of how much money you're losing because you remember the one win that you had.”
The expansion of sports betting, particularly through online platforms and apps, has made it easier than ever to place bets, drawing in a demographic that's traditionally been less engaged with gambling.
In her own career, Wilder says she's known of patients who have lost more than $30,000 due to gambling addictions. Specifically, with the growing legalization of sports betting industry-wide, Dr. Wilder explained young men are proving to be the biggest growing demographic seeking help for addictive tendencies in Ohio and beyond. According to the Ohio Casino Control Commission, males ages 18-44 are the most at-risk population to experience problems related to gambling, including sports betting.
“Typically, men who have a full-time job, often higher education levels rather than maybe somebody that you might in your minds, you know, be stereotyping as somebody who'd be and have problems with it. It's often people who seem to be doing really well,” Wilder said. This growing demographic, seduced by the allure of quick wins and the thrill of the game, increasingly finds themselves battling betting addiction.
As the American Gaming Association and the Supreme Court have shaped the landscape of sports gambling in the United States, including states like New Jersey and Nevada, Ohio's journey into legalized sports betting offers a fresh perspective on the importance of responsible gaming. The ease of making bets from anywhere, at any time, especially during high-stakes events like the Super Bowl, underscores the need for setting personal limits and understanding the potential for gambling harm.
At UC Health, Wilder said she’s observed “a small increase in folks coming in with problems with online gambling” over the past year but suspects more people soon will be seeking addiction services.
“I'm surprised I haven't seen more of it in my own clinic,” Wilder said of people coming in for sports gambling addiction services. “think there's probably right now a lot of it that is building and that probably we'll start seeing in the next few years people coming in with a lot of debt or ‘This is really my number one problem now.'”
For those planning on placing bets ahead of and during the Super Bowl, Wilder urges to have a plan.
“I think that if you're going to gamble on a game, especially the Super Bowl, which is really exciting and you can get caught up in the moment, you need to think about what you can spend beforehand and what you're willing to spend and then set that limit,” Wilder said urging people to explore different betting sites and apps to see about setting spending limits for themselves, a practice endorsed by responsible gaming initiatives.
Practically speaking, Wilder said that planning can go beyond setting financial limits but also technological limits for betting, “So ahead of time plan how much you're going to spend ahead of time. Plan, ‘Am I going to have my phone? I'm going to turn my phone off after halftime.’ Or something like that. So plan some things to prevent yourself from getting out of control.”
If you believe you or someone you know may have a problem with gambling, Wilder encourages people to take a step to get help. For those recognizing problematic gambling behaviors in themselves or loved ones, resources like Gamblers Anonymous and the National Problem Gambling Helpline offer confidential support.
UC Health Addiction Services on Harvey Avenue offers walk-in hours Monday-Thursday mornings from 6:00 - 11:00 a.m. Wilder says patients can have the opportunity to speak with a physician and counselor during their first visit to go over their personal history and determine the next steps of treatment and care.
UC Health Addiction Services provides a pathway to recovery, with walk-in hours and comprehensive care that addresses the multifaceted nature of addiction, from the initial assessment to personalized treatment plans.
As we approach the Super Bowl weekend, the excitement of the game, the allure of betting, and the spotlight on Las Vegas should come with an awareness of the fine line between casual betting and compulsive gambling. Dr. Wilder's insights not only shed light on the risks associated with sports betting but also highlight the broader implications for mental health and public health, underscoring the need for a proactive approach to responsible gaming and addiction services.
For more information or to seek help, contact UC Health Addiction Services or the Ohio Problem Gambling Hotline, and take the first step towards understanding and overcoming addiction. Remember, reaching out for help signifies strength and the first step toward recovery.
Those looking to make an appointment or learn more can call the UC Health Addiction Services at 513-585-8227.
People can also call or chat the Ohio Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-800-589-9966.
Wilder encourages anyone struggling to take that first step towards recovery.
“I think that that's there's a huge amount of shame associated with addictions of any kind, including gambling, and often more with gambling because you've lost money and there's debt associated and I think people don't need to be ashamed about it," Wilder said. "They just need to reach out for help because it is something you can recover from.”