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The Growing Concern of Gambling Addiction in the Era of Legal Sports Betting

Legalized sports betting in the United States has ushered in a new era of excitement for many, but it has also raised concerns about the potential rise of gambling addiction. With each state’s legalization, there comes an inevitable surge in calls to gambling addiction hotlines. What’s particularly alarming is the demographic shift among callers, with younger and younger individuals, especially young adult males, seeking help for gambling-related issues.

In Virginia, where sports betting became legal in early 2020, the increase in calls to the state’s gambling hotline is staggering. According to the Capital News Service, there was a 788% surge in calls from 2019 to 2022. Carolyn Hawley, president of the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling, noted that the callers to the hotline are predominantly men aged 18 to 25.

Similarly, Arizona, which legalized sports betting in September 2021, witnessed a doubling of calls from 2021 to 2022, with further increases noted in 2023. Although comprehensive data for the most recent quarter is not available, the trend is worrisome, especially considering the demographic skew towards younger males.

Even states like Ohio, where sports betting was only legalized in January 2023, are not immune to the trend. Calls to the state’s problem gambling helpline increased by 55% in the first year of legal sports betting, according to data from Ohio for Responsible Gambling

Michael Buzzelli, associate director of Ohio’s Problem Gambling Network, highlighted that calls related to sports betting have now surpassed those for slots and lottery, emphasizing the shifting landscape of gambling addiction. He said,

While we knew calls would increase and anticipated this due to the increases seen in other states already operating sports betting, such a dramatic increase was surprising and lets us know there is a lot of work still to be done for responsible gambling advocates statewide.

Legislators are taking notice of this concerning trend. In January, a bicameral bill known as the GRIT Act (Gambling Addiction Recovery, Investment, and Treatment) was introduced to address gambling addiction and promote treatment resources.

In addition to legislative efforts, industry stakeholders are also stepping up to address the issue. In March, leading sportsbook operators in the United States formed the Responsible Online Gaming Association, pledging to promote responsible gaming practices and enhance consumer and industry education on responsible gaming. While the concrete outcomes of this association remain to be seen, its formation signals a proactive approach by operators to mitigate the negative impacts of their business activities.

The rise in gambling addiction calls underscores the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to address this public health issue. While the legalization of sports betting offers economic opportunities and entertainment for many, it also poses risks, especially for susceptible gamblers.

With younger males increasingly seeking help for gambling-related issues, there is a clear need for targeted interventions and support services. The enactment of legislative measures like the GRIT Act and the establishment of industry-led initiatives demonstrate a growing recognition of the seriousness of the issue. 

Written by Tatyana Meshcheryakova. First published May 9, 2024.


“Gambling Addiction Hotlines Seeing Boom in Calls, With Callers Getting Younger,” Addiction Network, May 8, 2024.

“Helpline calls spike with Virginia gambling expansion,” Henrico Citizen, December 12, 2023.

“Calls to Virginia’s problem gambling hotline are soaring,” Axios, January 9, 2024.

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