March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. No, it’s not because of St. Patrick’s Day and the alleged luck of the Irish.
The luck of the Irish apparently was malarkey about how Irish migrant miners seemed to find good fortune during the Gold Rush in the American West back in the 1800s. It implied that the Irish weren’t actually astute, but that fate somehow was on their side.
March Madness, little local Irish luck
Nay, March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month in large part because of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which very well might be the most wagered-upon sporting event in the United States. More bets than the Super Bowl. More than the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, even.
As the Washington State Healthcare Authority (Feb. 2020) website notes: “Every year basketball fans are excited to celebrate the collegiate basketball tournament series known as March Madness. During this time, the gambling public will spend approximately $10 billion wagering on the outcomes of the games played.”
The American Gaming Association claims that the amount of money bet throughout the tournament surpasses Super Bowl betting by a significant margin, with an estimated $8.5 billion bet on past March Madness tournaments.
The NCAA basketball tournament was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic. This year, tempting fate, plans are underway for all rounds of the event to be held in Indianapolis.
The games begin the day after St. Patrick’s Day, on Thursday, March 18, with the championship set for Monday, April 5.
Incidentally, the Notre Dame Irish men’s hoops squad’s one and only Final Four appearance was 1978. The women’s team has been to that Final Four nine times, most recently in 2019. The women won the title in 2001 and 2018.
The Notre Dame hockey team has made the Final Four four times, most recently in 2018, and has never been champion.
The fabled football team has floundered in playoff games and most recently took the crown in 1988.
If DePaul in Chicago counts as Irish, the Blue Demons last made the men’s basketball Final Four in 1979. They were there once before, in 1943. While having a solid program, the women’s team hasn’t made the Final Four.
So much for the luck of the Irish, eh?
But back to March Madness and gambling. A good amount of wagering happens in office pools.
One place I worked had it where you put in your money, picked a team name out of a hat, and could be stuck with a long shot or have one of the prohibitive favorites.
Then there are the brackets, where you predict in advance which teams will make it past the first round and beyond, all the way to the final game.
Gambling on sports through sanctioned places and internet spaces became legal in Illinois at casinos, a horse track and through certain virtual places on the internet in 2020. This link offers an overview of the sports gambling market in Illinois.
Barring a covid-19 outbreak, two teams from Illinois will be heading to the men’s tournament – the University of Illinois and Loyola.
The Illini last made the Final Four in 1989 and again in 2005. They’ve never been champs.
However, in Illinois you won’t be able to bet legally on a bracket, Loyola or Illinois as you cand with this promotion from DraftKings.
Here in the Sucker State, due to a quirk with Illinois’ law, while you can legally gamble on professional teams based in Illinois while you are in Illinois, you can’t place a bet on any of the state’s college teams in Illinois.
Big bucks, big bucks
Even with this restriction, in December (the most recent month for available figures) gamblers made close to $492 million in legal sports wagers through Illinois’ legal sportsbooks. With casinos and the track closed because of covid-19, all that betting happened online.
Despite being legal for less than a full year, reports state that more than 52.5 million legal sports bets were placed in Illinois, with close to $1.9 billion wagered during 2020.
Gambling on sporting events now is legally available in at least 17 states and the District of Columbia, and the amount gambled this way continues to rise. In December, the nationwide tally hit $3.77 billion for the month.
Gambling is virtually everywhere
Keep in mind, too, that the opportunity to gamble in myriad ways is greater than it’s ever been.
Forty-four states offer some type of casino action. Past casinos, you can find video gaming machines in bars, restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores all across Illinois and in seven other states.
Forty-eight states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands run lotteries.
According to a WTTW report, as of April 2020, Illinois had almost 35,750 gaming terminals in 7,290 licensed locations in addition to 10 casinos and three racetracks. That’s more offerings than you can find in Nevada.
If that weren’t enough legal gambling, bingo is gaining a newfound popularity. And there is legislation under consideration in Illinois to make online casino-style gambling legal here, too, as it already is in a handful of other states.
For its fiscal year 2020 (which ended last June 30), Illinois’ share of tax revenues from wagering by various legal means totaled $1.215 billion, a 13.4 percent decrease from the prior fiscal year. The decline happened in light of the pandemic, which saw casino and video gaming play suspended in Illinois from March 16 – June 30.
The state expects the take to grow as the pandemic wanes and as changes to law allow even more legal gambling. In addition to sportsbooks, that includes six more casinos in the works, casino gambling being allowed at horse tracks and increased betting and terminal limits at video gaming establishments.
Covid-19 and gambling
Anecdotal evidence points toward the lingering pandemic having an impact on gambling, too.
Data from Florida shows a marked increase in gambling at convenience stores, online and with lottery tickets during COVID-19 Crisis.
In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, online gambling has seen a dramatic rise in play the world over.
A preliminary study done in Sweden examined gambling and mental health issues brought on by stress during COVID-19 pandemic.
A WBEZ/ProPublica report (linked below) about video gaming addiction from almost two years ago, showed how serious that problem was becoming.
In Texas, a gamblers anonymous hotline has seen a dramatic rise in calls for help. Hotline staff said stress and financial concerns are the biggest contributors to the troubles they are hearing.
Authorities in Delaware also note a rise in problem gambling, particularly among younger gamblers, coinciding with the ease and availability of digital gambling.
In early February the Chicago Sun-Times reported calls to the Illinois’ gambling disorder hotline more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, with almost 13,260 people calling for information last year.
Still, the number of people seeking help remains low. In 2019, about 580 people received treatment for gambling disorders through state-sponsored programs. That figure passed 1,000 in 2020, the Sun-Times reported.
If it looks like gambling, it is
Online gambling can make it easier for minors to gamble, too. And there is anecdotal evidence showing how video games aimed at young children might lure them into becoming gamblers somewhere along the way.
In this story, unbeknownst to a mother, her six-year-old son rang up more than $16,000 in charges playing Sonic Forces, an online video game. He spent the money on rings used in the game, rings with no value whatsoever outside the game.
Fantasy sports draw large numbers of mostly male players. Experts caution that these, too, are a form of gambling that can lead to resultant problems.
Esports, where people compete against each other in video games, is a fast-growing industry. While many of the players are underage for gambling, Las Vegas is well aware of the trend, is not shy about cashing in on it and is setting the table for future waves of gamblers.
Recently, online day trading has been in the news with stories about GameStop stock as well as the unfortunate tale of the young, novice who committed suicide after his misuse of the Robinhood app mistakenly led him to believe he was more than $730,000 in debt.
Experts warn that online trading can lead to addictive behavior similar to gambling disorders.
They also note that some day trading apps, particularly Robinhood, are set up like gaming apps. They use incentives similar to what gaming apps do to lure new users. The physiological reactions to day trading are similar to those experienced when gambling, too.
Like day trading through apps, overuse of social media can cause problems similar to gambling disorders, some claim – as social media intermittently rewards participants for making comments and offers few cues for when enough is enough.
So all the above is why it’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month
In light of all the above the National Council on Problem Gambling says the purpose of declaring March Problem Gambling Awareness Month is to “increase public awareness of problem gambling and the availability of prevention, treatment and recovery services. To encourage healthcare providers to screen clients for problem gambling.”
It estimates that about 6 million adults and a half-million teens in the United States meet the criteria for problem gambling. Illinois authorities estimate roughly 300,000 residents face gambling disorders.
The Council claims gambling disorders run higher among college-aged people, while the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling estimates 10 percent of military veterans have gambling-related problems.
As the Mayo Clinic website puts it, “Compulsive gambling is a serious condition that can destroy lives. Although treating compulsive gambling can be challenging, many people who struggle with compulsive gambling have found help through professional treatment.”
The Illinois Department of Human Services 2020 budget (which ended last June 30) held about $4.9 million for treatment and services for compulsive gamblers, an increase from $800,000 the prior fiscal year, according to a WTTW report.
In November, the state of Illinois announced it had commissioned a $500,000 study about gambling in light of the rise of legal online sports betting. Those behind the study say it’s been 30 years since the state looked at issues gambling can cause. They claim as many as 2 percent of folks exposed to gambling wind up having troubles related to gambling.
Where to turn for help
To address gambling disorders here in Illinois, the Department of Human Services maintains the website We Know the Feeling. Its information includes a quiz to self- evaluate if someone might have gambling issues and resources to which people can turn for help.
One such state-approved service provider listed is Associates in Behavioral Health Care/About Behavioral Change (ABC), which has offices in Roselle, St. Charles, Schaumburg and West Dundee.
“We offer a variety of styles of counseling, not only for individuals but for families and loved ones of those who have gambling problems,” ABC’s Mary Crick says. “We’ve seen everyone from teens to seniors, from singles to extended families, come through our doors seeking help.”
Crick notes that gambling disorders frequently don’t reveal themselves until bill collectors come calling and families find themselves in dire financial straits.
Every Friday in March, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., ABC will be offering free initial screenings by phone for those who think they or a loved one might have a gambling problem. To arrange a screening, phone 847-791-4384, then text name, date of birth and “looking for gambling screening.” For assistance in Spanish, text the same information to 815-219-9849.
Help also is available confidentially through IDHS, by way of the aforementioned We Know the Feeling website, by texting ILGAMB to 53342 or by phone at 1-800-GAMBLER.
Good luck to you.