NY bets on big revenue, but counselors worry online sports betting will up ante on addiction
Online sports betting is now available in New York State, and while many of its users will make their wagers within their means, advocates for gambling addicts are concerned that the discreet, convenient platform — as well as the proliferation of ads promoting the services — will increase problem gaming.
From private bets to football squares, people in New York State have wagered on sporting events since long before the state began allowing in-person sports books in July 2019. Native-run casinos have been in Western New York for more than two decades. Off-Track Betting has existed in New York State since 1970.
The arrival of mobile sports gaming is seen as potentially one of the largest sources of new tax revenue for New York State. Some in Albany who supported legalizing it believe it will generate as much as $500 million in tax revenue yearly.
But the convenience and discreet nature of online sports gaming concerns those who work with people battling gambling addiction.
“The challenges are going to be exponentially increased in the near short term. But the challenges remain the same: the awareness of the disease and the promotion of services that are available to individuals,” said Scott Meyer, a certified peer recovery advocate, and an individual who has overcome his own gambling addiction.
“I am proof that it's very hard to overcome by yourself. And just the fact that there's so much promotion on the side of gamble, gamble, gamble, and you know, ‘you open an account will will give you $1,000 of free play.’ And just to get in it, it’s so easy. It’s so easy.”
On Jan. 8, four online sports gaming operators went live in New York State: Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings, FanDuel and Rush Street Interactive. Even before they went live, social media platforms and television channels were bombarded by ads trumpeting their arrival.
And before that, many television sports highlight shows, and even some professional leagues, were touting their partnerships with sports books.
“With sports gambling, particularly because of the data collecting that they're able to obtain, through the use of apps and websites and deal tracking, and all of that information, the marketing is really, incredibly targeted to the people who are most vulnerable and most likely to spend that money. And in many cases, that's people who are having a problem,” said Angela DiRosa, program manager for the Western Problem Gambling Resource Center.
Supporters in Albany of legalized online sports betting say revenue created by the services could be used to provide funding for education, new job creation, and also financial support for the programs which work with problem gamblers. This year, the state’s programs are slated to receive $6 million.
DiRosa says they receive less than 1% of annual sports betting revenue. What they fear is that the onset of online sports betting will increase problem gaming, while agencies do not receive the additional funds to help an increased case load.
“We know that there's going to be an influx, because anytime you increase gambling accessibility, the number of problems related to gambling goes up,” she said. “So we're going to be serving more individuals with a pretty level budget. So that really stymies what we're able to do, the level of folks that we're able to reach and help.”
The providers do, in their advertising, urge people to play responsibly and provide phone numbers for counseling.
The warning signs of a problem include an increase in financial problems, and more worry about financial problems, an increase in stress and anxiety, an increase in preoccupation or prioritization of gambling, and neglect of other hobbies, activities or personal relationships.
Meyer, the gambling addict turned advocate, says he’s one of the lucky ones.
He explained he was a certified public accountant and financial advisor. He gambled throughout his young adult life but he says by the time he reached his 30s, he went on a 12-year destructive slide. The financial woes created by his need to gamble ultimately led to the loss of his certifications, reputation and, ultimately, his freedom. Meyer told WBFO out of need to obtain money he took money he intended to pay back but never did, and finally was arrested at his home for white collar crimes.
He’s lucky, he says, because his wife stayed with him and together they kept the family together and overcame his problem, though he adds he continues to work to restore trust.
“It's not the gambling that takes you away, that destroys the relationships. People can talk about gambling and decide together whether they will gamble how much they would gamble. It’s the behavior changes that happen to the individual that causes the relationships to fall,” he said. “And it's the lying and the covering and the hiding and the mood swings. All these things that come along with a gambling addiction, it’s the things that really have an impact on the relationship.”
As a peer recovery advocate, Meyer works with gambling addicts by serving as a mentor, a coach throughout the individual’s recovery plan, and as a contact who helps link the person to needed services.
The Western Problem Gambling Resource Center is one of seven such centers across the state.
“Our first line of defense is assessments and treatment. We work with a private practice, a group of private practice clinicians who are specially trained in providing services to not only a person experiencing a gambling problem, but loved ones who are being negatively impacted by a person's gambling problem as well,” DiRosa said.
They also provide connections to Gamblers Anonymous, or “Gam-Anon,” offering support to families affected by problem gambling.