A Look at Illinois’ Sports Gambling Market One Year in Doesn’t Show Widespread Gambling Problems

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The vast majority of sports gamblers in Illinois don’t demonstrate an unhealthy proclivity toward gambling. This is good news since gambling opponents have repeatedly – and incorrectly – tried to argue that legalized gambling would destroy communities. They asserted that it would only create a society full of crazed people, running around and placing bets everywhere as they mortgaged their houses, their cars and even their unborn children. However, even mental health experts in Illinois have acknowledged that this hasn’t happened and are finding an extremely low percentage of gambling addiction a year after online sports gambling was introduced to the state.

Anti-gamblers Overhype the Consequences?

Any activity, substance, food, beverage or experience can lead to addiction, but, according to many psychologists, only if a predisposition for addiction already exists. Illinois seems to be relatively free of those who might have the disposition, as a look at how online gambling in the state is performing after 12 months doesn’t show any major issues. Even Faye Freeman-Smith, a gambling counselor and a member of the board of directors for the Illinois Council on Problem Gambling, can’t identify a major problem. According to the Daily Herald, she asserts, “There are a few, that 2% to 3% of bettors, that will have difficulty.”

By way of comparison, alcohol and prescription drug addiction in the US are much worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25.8% of the population has been found to be “binge drinkers” at times and regularly engage in excessive alcohol use. That led to an economic impact in the US in 2010 of $249 billion, resulting from losses in workplace productivity, health care expenses, vehicle accidents, property damage, criminal justice costs and more. Coincidentally, the CDC reports that, in 2015, Illinois was among the states that registered a higher prevalence of binge drinking (20.8%), which would seem to debunk that alcoholism and gambling addiction go hand-in-hand. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 8% of the population is considered to have an “opioid use disorder,” and 80% of heroin users got their start using opioids.

Another mental health expert has found similar results with the gambling environment in Illinois. Charles Vorderer is a counselor at the Center for Therapeutic Services and Psychodiagnostics and hasn’t seen an increase in problem gambling among those that arrive at one of the company’s three facilities. He explains, “I haven’t seen an increase of gambling issues related to depression, anxiety or substance abuse because usually when they come in, they don’t recognize they have a gambling problem, per se. We’re not Vegas, we don’t have casinos, you have to drive a ways for that. For those coming in with gambling as a primary source of an issue, I haven’t seen any kind of increase in that.”

Problem Gambling Successfully Being Addressed

Every state in the US that has legalized sports gambling has dedicated a portion of the tax revenue to gambling addiction programs. This is a logical component of the larger gambling ecosystem and one that has to be monitored, just like alcohol and drug addictions are monitored. Neither Freeman-Smith nor Vorderer believes that gambling addiction programs are unnecessary and they both support strict problem gambling guidelines. Freeman-Smith acknowledges that more people have stepped forward to request help for their gambling problems, which is a good sign that the state’s programs are working.  However, the input shows that gambling has not turned the world upside down as some had imagined.

The Illinois figures could change, though, as more data is compiled. However, Illinois has had an on-again/off-again relationship with online sports gambling registrations, and access to online registrations is always followed by a surge in signups. In addition, the state is ready to expand its sports gambling options, which might also attract more attention. Another mental health expert, Leyden Family Service, and the SHARE Program CEO Bruce Sewick, points out that he is waiting to receive more data from the state to determine whether additional regulations are needed, adding that Illinois is currently in “uncharted territory.” He asserts, “As this thing rolls out, we’ll find out more.”

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