Five Questions with Dolores Cimini on Sports Betting, Problem Gambling
By Bethany Bump
ALBANY, N.Y. (Oct. 3, 2023) — A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for states to legalize and regulate sports betting created a boom in online sports betting nationwide, with over 34 states and Washington D.C. legalizing some form of the practice in the years since.
With NFL season now underway and betting only expected to grow, the industry is preparing for its biggest gambling season ever, with commercial gaming revenues expected to top last year’s record of $60 billion.
Dolores Cimini, a licensed psychologist and director of the Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research at UAlbany and senior research scientist in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology, has studied the issue of problem gambling for years and says the ease of access created by mobile and online betting is just one factor fueling a rise in compulsive and addictive gambling behaviors.
In May, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko announced that UAlbany would receive a five-year award totaling more than $4.8 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Substance Abuse Treatment to develop innovative evidence-based screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment protocols for students struggling with substance use and problem gambling. Cimini and Jessica Martin, a senior research associate and research fellow at UAlbany’s School of Education, are leading the research, with a focus on building novel, accessible and effective interventions that can assist other colleges and universities in doing the same.
We recently caught up with Cimini to learn more about the compulsive side of sports betting and resources that are available to assist those struggling to curb problematic gambling behavior.
Has there been an increase in problem gambling since the legalization of online sports betting in New York and other states?
Since New York State legalized online betting in early January 2022, it has become the biggest sports betting market in the nation, surpassing Nevada and New Jersey, which captured the top spot in mobile sports betting after legalizing the practice in 2018. There have been more than $2 billion in wagers in New York State in the first few months of 2022, bringing nearly $80 million in tax revenue to our state.
There are several reasons for this increase, including offers and promotions by a number of companies to encourage such betting activity.
In the first few months of 2022 alone, state tax revenue from online betting had already surpassed projections. Additionally, the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports reported a 46 percent increase in calls to its gambling help line in January 2022, compared with the previous January.
How does online sports betting differ from other forms of gambling in its psychological and behavioral impact?
Online betting is a form of gambling that involves playing casino-like games, lotteries and betting on sporting events over the internet and other online platforms. There are several reasons why sports betting is appealing and different people have different motivations to bet on sports:
- Ease of access: Since 2018 when the Supreme Court lifted the federal ban many states legalized betting on sports, and getting started is easy. Players can sign up with an online betting platform or mobile betting app and be ready to go in minutes.
- Entertainment: Betting on sporting events can be an enjoyable and social activity to enjoy with friends, family or colleagues.
- Profit potential: The chance of winning big keeps people coming back for more. However, there is always the chance of losing big and chasing losses, in a desperate attempt to recoup money that rarely has a happy outcome.
- Mental challenge: Sports betting allows people to use their sports and betting knowledge. Sports enthusiasts can put their expertise to practical use while gamblers can test their betting skills and know-how.
- Excitement: Sports betting can enhance the thrill of the game, especially when watching and betting simultaneously.
The National Council on Problem Gambling conducted a review of more than 140 studies and reported on the link between sports betting and gambling addiction. It concluded that “recent research suggests that gambling problems may increase as sports gambling grows explosively at the same time that mobile and online technologies evolve to create seemingly unlimited types of wagering opportunities.”
Online bettors need to be aware of the risks, which include addiction and associated mental health issues; vulnerability to financial losses and scams as well as computer viruses, spyware and hackers; theft of personal and credit card information; and negative attitudes toward people who engage in gambling.
How big an issue is problem gambling and online sports betting on college campuses?
Approximately 75 percent of college students gambled during the past year, betting on the lottery, casino games, cards and sports. While the vast majority of college students who are of legal age to gamble do so responsibly, the most recent research estimates that 6 percent of college students in the U.S. have a serious gambling problem that can result in psychological difficulties, unmanageable debt and failing grades.
Today’s college students are exposed to gambling both on campus and in the surrounding community, including online wagering on professional and college sports, lotteries, online or in-person casino games, horse and dog racing, and bingo and raffles.
What signs should someone look out for — in themselves or others — to identify whether a betting habit has become problematic?
While gambling can be fun for many who engage in it and are of legal age, it’s not a risk-free activity. For some college students, gambling for fun can turn into a serious problem and have a negative impact on their lives. Problem gambling – or gambling addiction – includes all gambling behavior patterns that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or vocational pursuits.
Symptoms include increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, “chasing” losses, frequent unexplained absences from classes or work, visible changes in behavior such as mood changes or a sudden drop in grades, a decline in health, withdrawal from loved ones, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences. In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide.
Anyone who gambles can develop problems. This is why it is important to be aware of the risks and to gamble in a responsible way, if they choose to gamble. When gambling behavior interferes with finances, relationships and the workplace, a serious problem already exists.
Gambling disorders can be associated with numerous negative consequences and are highly correlated with other risky behaviors. Students who use tobacco, drink heavily or binge drink, use cannabis or use other drugs, drive under the influence or have a low GPA are more likely to gamble.
What resources are available for people who may be struggling with a betting addiction?
Students who have concerns regarding problem gambling and related issues can contact Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) through the University’s Health and Counseling Services at 518-442-5800 or [email protected]. Students may be referred through CAPS to other programs for more intensive treatment when this is determined to be the most appropriate next step.
Employees in need of support can contact the Employee Assistance Program, which offers employees education, assistance and referrals to counseling and treatment services as appropriate, at 518-442-5483 or [email protected].
For services within the Capital Region and throughout the state, the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports maintains a listing of licensed providers in New York State. Individuals can also seek help at one of New York’s Problem Gambling Resource Centers. The National Council on Problem Gambling also offers resources. Call or text their helpline at 1-800-GAMBLER, chat with helpline counselors at www.1800gamblerchat.org, find a treatment facility, or attend a self-help meeting.
Learn more about the issue and how to get help if you need it at CollegeGambling.org, which was designed specifically to help current and prospective students, campus administrators, campus health professionals and parents address gambling and gambling-related harms on campus.