Monday, July 15, 2024

Guest Opinion: Legal or not, sports gambling is not going away — and neither is gambling addiction

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Anyone who watches sports has recognized the influx of flashy, funny and big-budget advertising promoting online sports gambling sites and apps. It could be argued that the “sport” of betting on sports seems to be just as popular as watching the game itself.

A few months back, the sports gambling bill again failed to pass at the Minnesota Capitol. And while gambling on sports remains illegal in Minnesota, the reality is people are going to continue to place bets on sports and potentially head down an all-too-common path of problem gambling and addiction, which can lead to bankruptcy, dissolved relationships, domestic violence, homelessness and money crimes. Sadly, problem gamblers have the highest suicide rate of any addiction orders.

As a gambling-neutral organization, we aren’t against gambling. We fully understand that many people can play responsibly. But we can’t ignore there are 250,000 Minnesota adults — and 6,000 high schoolers — who have reported problematic gambling, according to a 2020 study from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and who don’t have a strong safety net for support or recovery.

Given these facts, we can’t underscore enough that we need to make Minnesota a safer, more supportive community that treats problem gambling as a treatable and preventable public health issue.

Unfortunately, Minnesota — and the other 38 states that have legalized sports gambling — fails to see problem gambling as a public health issue. Many of these states rushed their sports gambling legislation and failed to include the necessary consumer protections and prevention resources. Consequently, every state that has legalized sports betting has seen significant spikes in calls to problem gambling help lines.

These are major red flags for Minnesota to think about and prepare for if and when the sports gambling debate continues at the Capitol.

If it does, we have a huge opportunity to re-engineer any future bill to include important consumer protections to ensure there are resources in place to support the probable spike in problem gambling.

Such protections include proper funding for more treatment providers and family services, and to provide prevention and education tools to help Minnesotans understand problem gambling, especially for youth. There also need to be safeguards in place to allow players to opt out from online or in-app games that are designed to keep players gambling. Plus, we need to work to limit gambling advertising to people under 21. Finally, we need to place a ban on prop betting — side bets not related to the outcome of a game — on college games to prevent gamblers from making excessive bets and to protect student athletes from harassment and potential game integrity issues.

But no matter what, we can’t ignore the reality: people are going to continue to gamble. That’s why family and friends need to be aware of common signs that might indicate a gambling problem. We all play a role in removing the stigma of gambling addiction and raising our antennas to this growing issue so we can best address it.

Here are a few signs that may point to a gambling problem:

  • Increased frequency of gambling activity.
  • Gambling for significantly longer periods of time than originally planned.
  • Boasting about wins, but never talking about losses.
  • Lying about how money is spent.
  • Turning to other excesses to relieve gambling stress (alcohol, sleep, video games, etc.)

While Minnesota is lacking the proper resources to properly treat gambling addiction, help is free for those seeking a path toward recovery. A first step for anyone looking for help is calling the Minnesota Gambling Helpline at 1-800-333-4673.

Susan Sheridan Tucker is executive director of the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling, a gambling-neutral organization dedicated to improving the lives of Minnesotans affected by gambling addiction.

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