Health experts recommend staying home to help flatten the curve to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The majority of Pennsylvanians are hunkering down at home, according to statistics from Cuebiq.
All of Pennsylvania’s 12 brick-and-mortar casinos have been closed since March 17. Parts of the state have been under a stay-at-home order since March 22. As of April 1, the order was extended to the entire state.
Pennsylvania is only one of four states with legal online casinos that offer an alternative way to play and provide the state with some tax revenue during this incomparable time. However, there are potential negative implications to be aware of, such as problem gambling.
NCPG warns of increased risk during shelter-in-place order
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), an advocacy organization for people and their families affected by problem gambling, commented on the current situation to Play Pennsylvania.
“Every risk factor is increased right now.”
Whyte pointed out that playing legally at online casinos can be a recreational activity if you are doing it for reasons such as entertainment, recreation or a diversion.
“We urge people to consider if they are doing it to relieve stress or to relieve strong feelings like depression or anxiety. That’s where it becomes a risk factor for developing a gambling problem.”
Whyte said most people who play do it for fun. However, sometimes it’s difficult to separate heavy recreational play from a problem.
“We look at things like, why you are gambling? It’s also how you gamble. You have to be honest with yourself. If you can set a reasonable limit of time and money and stick to that limit you will protect yourself from developing a problem.”
Risk factors exacerbated in current crisis
A recent NCPG webinar entitled, “Impacts of COVID-19 on People & Problem Gambling,” highlighted risk factors and impacts.
Problem gamblers are more likely to be:
- Young, male, lower socioeconomic status, military/veteran, have a history of substance abuse and use.
- Have positive attitudes about gambling but low gambling literacy.
- Demonstrate a high frequency of gambling and play multiple games.
Factors associated with problem gambling that are exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic are social isolation, anxiety, stress and depression.
Problem gamblers also have high rates of co-occurring health and physical disorders, and are more likely to be in the health care system and experiencing financial problems.
In the next few weeks, those who qualify for it will begin to receive economic impact payments (aka, stimulus or relief checks) from the Treasury Department. The NCPG warns people not to view the checks like a lottery jackpot as a license to spend frivolously or “found money” for gaming.
Help available for problem gambling
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board launched a new website, www.ResponsiblePlay.PA.gov, in March as part of their efforts for Problem Gambling Awareness Month. The site provides information on how to recognize the warning signs of a gambling problem and available treatment options in Pennsylvania.
Problem gambling resources, screening tools and treatment options are available at the National Council on Problem Gaming’s website.
Additional resources include:
National Problem Gambling Helpline:
Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania:
Coronavirus closures change support messaging
The coronavirus lockdown orders do not only increase risk factors for problem gamblers. The situation also presents a new set of challenges for the NCPG and similar groups.
In March, the NCPG’s efforts were going to be focused on March Madness since they expected calls to the helpline to spike over the course of the month.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the NCPG pivoted messaging to address isolation, anxiety and possible shifts in participation from brick-and-mortar to online casinos. NCPG has produced a number of webinars since the outbreak, including web-based mediation on Wednesdays.
However, a return to a new normal even after shutdown orders lift won’t translate into the end of the coronavirus’s impact.
Future impact on problem gambling programs a major concern
All 465 commercial casinos closed in the US by March 25 and remain shuttered. It’s an unprecedented time in the history of US gaming that is hitting each operator, employee, supplier and local business. Gambling tax revenue for part of March and April will possibly dip to new lows.
The NCPG receives no federal funding and relies on members and friends for support. However, gambling tax revenue funds most state-run problem gambling programs. As the casinos close and lottery sales plunge, Whyte said it’s “likely” that programs will be severely impacted.
“In very short order, almost every problem gambling non-profit in Pennsylvania and nationwide is going to be facing severe funding shortfalls. Without us, the whole safety net for problem gamblers collapses because we are the last line of defense. We are concerned about the continuity and sustainability of problem gambling services.”