North Carolina lawmakers expanded gambling options this year, allowing bets on sports and horse racing starting in 2024. The move could potentially add millions to the state’s coffers. But it also raises concerns for those who may become addicted. 

Keith Whyte is executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling in Washington, D.C. He spoke with WFDD’s Paul Garber about learning the signs for when online gambling becomes a problem. 

Interview Highlights:

On who is most vulnerable:

"We believe that the increase in risk and rate and severity of gambling problems is not seen generally across the population. It is contained mostly within this very specific group of young male online sports bettors. And we know even within that group of young male sports bettors there are particular traits or characteristics that may lead one to be higher risk. So frequency of gambling; the number of types of things you gamble on; being a veteran or an active duty service member is associated. One of the risk factors we find this most interesting that's not found in any other form of gambling is the association with higher education. The more education you have, the more likely you are to bet sports. To the extent that college graduates bet sports twice as often as people who've only graduated high school. ...  Graduate students seem to bet sports more than just college. This is, again, an association not found in any other type of gambling. It's not found anywhere else in the world. There's something unique about the American college experience and its association with sports that is strongly associated with sports betting."

On the trend of high school-aged people placing bets:

"We know that the earlier someone starts gambling, the more likely they are to have a problem. And I think the evidence shows that there's a significant number of the 16- and 17-year-olds who are betting sports, whether that is with a legal provider, and they've lied about their age, or whether it's an offshore illegal provider, because there's of course, a lot of ways to gamble, and even to bet sports, that may not be legal, but they're still widely available to kids these days."

On the kind of behaviors you might see in a very young person who is getting in trouble with gambling:

"The types of behaviors that parents should look out for kind of track with some of the behaviors associated with a child who may be using or abusing substances. So things like lying, unexplained losses or unexplained increases in the amount of money that the child may have. We see a lot of small-scale theft and financial crimes to finance a gambling problem. But I think the biggest warning sign, the one that's probably the clearest for most parents, is preoccupation. And so if you have a kid who's really interested in sports, and who's probably already engaged in Daily Fantasy (an app for sports betting) and maybe plays casual poker with their siblings or their family, it's that preoccupation that is a hallmark of something that may have started as recreational, but it's starting to become a problem."

On what to expect from treatment for gambling issues:

"It's so important for people to understand that the most important thing you can do is make that first call, you know, to reach out and talk to someone openly and honestly, about you may have a problem, if you're concerned, if you have a loved one. But making that call then opens access to a lot of different pathways. Because much like other addictions, gambling addiction, there's a lot of ways people get into problems, but there's a lot of ways people get out of problems. For some people, it's attending a self-help group, for others, it may be through their pastor, you know, for some in North Carolina, you have access to very good treatment services. So counseling is available and it's subsidized by the state. So there's, if you can't pay, there's options for you. For some people, maybe depression is really their problem, they just gamble to escape. For other people, gambling may be their real problem, they may even have biological predisposition. But it all starts with making that first call for hope and help and everything else then becomes possible.The success rates, I should say, are very, very good. So roughly two-thirds of people who try to seriously engage with treatment or self-help groups are abstinent or have reduced their gambling at one year."


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