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As football season kicks off, Ohio experts prepare for rise in problem gambling

Two football teams face off on a field
Experts predict more people will struggle with problem gambling as sports betting becomes more common.

The NFL season kicked off last weekend, and this year, Ohio fans can do more than cheer from the sidelines. They can put money on the line.

This is the first full NFL season since Ohio joined the growing list of states that legalized sports betting, and that has some worried about a rise in problem gambling.

“Sports betting will absolutely become more problematic,” said Derek Longmeier, the executive director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio. “The more opportunities there are to gamble, the more individuals will participate in gambling. And then, as a result of that, more individuals will also develop gambling problems.”

“Sports betting will absolutely become more problematic.”
Derek Longmeier, the executive director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio

Calls to Ohio’s problem gambling helpline have already surged since the state legalized sports betting in January, up about 150% in the first seven months of the year, compared to the same time frame last year.

And Longmeier expects that number to rise even higher now that football season is underway. A record 73 million Americans plan to gamble on NFL games this year.

“We certainly expect more sports betting in the fall,” he said. “And as a result of that, we also expect more calls to the helpline.”

That’s partly because more people are asking for help, Longmeier said, but it’s also because sports betting advertisements in Ohio are required to list the number for the problem gambling helpline — 1-800-589-9966 or 1-800-GAMBLER.

“That has just allowed for more visibility and more people are picking up the phone and utilizing the resources that are available,” he said.
As calls to the helpline increase, the demographics of callers are also changing.

They’re more likely to be younger, and therefore more familiar with sports betting technology and apps, Longmeier says, but that’s not all.

“As we look at those who are engaging in mental health and treatment services, they're tending to be younger too. So I think it really is a good cultural shift of recognizing that, if someone has a problem, it's okay to ask for help,” he said.

But Longmeier worries an even bigger surge in problem gambling is still on the horizon in Ohio.

Among other states that have legalized sports betting, demand for gambling help rose especially high two years after legalization, after people had more time to develop gambling habits.

Longmeier says Ohio’s Problem Gambling Network is preparing for that surge now.

“We are working with counselors throughout the state to ensure that they have the qualifications and competencies needed in order to treat gambling not only effectively, but also as cutting edge as it can be,” he said.

That’s because now, gambling doesn’t necessarily look like a lever at a slot machine.

It’s as ubiquitous as a football game and a cellphone app.

If you or someone you know is struggling with problem gambling, contact the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline at 800-589-9966.

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.