"New York has been kind of the top dog when it comes to geolocation volumes, in terms of handle, in terms of revenue,” John Pappas, GeoComply’s senior vice president of government and public affairs, told WEWS last month. “New York has really been at the top but right now at least when we look at geolocation volumes, Ohio is exceeding even that of New York. It's been pretty monumental. We've been involved in the sports betting industry since its launch in the U.S. and Ohio's been one of the most impressive market launches we've seen. There's just a lot of enthusiasm and interest there."
As the Ohio Casino Control Commission's Director of Operations and Problem Gambling Amanda Blackford noted in December, the expectation was that the newly legalized sportsbooks would also draw a high number of residents dealing with addictive behaviors.
“In other states that preceded Ohio in legalizing sports betting, we’ve seen higher interest and more struggles with problem gambling,” she said in a statement that month.
That's exactly what Ohio has seen.
“The number of calls to the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline have absolutely skyrocketed,” Michael Buzzelli, associate director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio (PGNO), told Scene.
According to Buzzelli, the helpline received about 600 calls a month in late 2022. In January, that number jumped to 1,492. Additionally, the demographic of callers has shifted. Buzzelli said the typical age of callers has dropped and many report having problems with gambling for less than a year.
“More of those calls are noting that sports gambling is their main form or problematic form of gambling,” Buzzelli said. “It comes down to the timing. Because it’s on our phones, it’s at our fingertips. You’re able to make a bet every 20 seconds, every minute.”
In the month since sports gambling was legalized in Ohio, four prominent companies have been issued violations for targeting those under the age of 21, advertising promotions as “free” or “risk-free” when patrons had to incur any loss or risk their own money, advertising on a college campus, and running advertisements without a conspicuous message to prevent problem gambling and information about resources for problem gambling.
Some warning signs of problem gaming include spending more money and/or time than planned on betting, irritability and finding betting and sports more stressful than fun.
Buzzelli stressed that the helpline provides not just treatment but information and resources. He urged anyone with questions or concerns about their or a loved one’s gambling to reach out to the Problem Gambling Ohio Network.
The helpline can link callers directly to on-call gambling specialists, help access software to block gambling technology and find local resources.
“Resources are out there and they’re free,” said Buzzelli. The Ohio Problem Gambling Network can be reached by phone at 1-800-589-9966 or online at pgnohio.org.
This story was originally published by Cleveland Scene, CityBeat's sister publication.
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