The virus-induced constriction of gambling options in Pennsylvania is coming to a close. How that will affect compulsive gamblers in the longterm remains to play out, experts say. Most would agree though that as live betting options return in full force, a renewed focus on responsible gaming is in order.
PA casinos began reopening this week. And with them brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. Racetracks are soon to reopen without spectators. And online sportsbooks will again have options beyond darts and table tennis as mainstream sports resume.
Problem gambling may actually have decreased during shutdowns
At the start of shutdowns meant to slow the virus spread, many addiction sites and media stories prescriptively predicted a massive surge in online problem gambling issues as bored shut-ins turned to online wagering and became problem gamblers.
So far, there are no definitive data to support those predictions.
Instead, the reality so far is it has instead been “blurry,” according to Josh Ercole, executive director of the state’s Council on Compulsive Gambling.
For instance, calls to compulsive gambling helplines are way down, not up, said Ercole.
Some have used the time to deal with their compulsive betting
Instead, the interlude has been “a great opportunity for anyone with a gambling addiction to get a foundation of recovery for when things start-up,” according to Arnie Wexler, a former compulsive gambler, recovery counselor and the co-author of the book All Bets are Off.
“It’s like being an alcoholic and there’s no alcohol anywhere. The COVID-19 pandemic may help them in a way: it might lead to them quitting gambling.”
Instead of stampeding compulsive gamblers toward online outlets, the shut-down appears to have “given people time to reflect, a blessing,” said Ercole.
But not all compulsive gamblers
But that’s not everyone, Ercole cautioned.
“There are those who struggle with this every day and can’t wait to get back in,” Ercole explained.
And there were certainly “very high participation rates” in online gambling options, but it was more of a “slow and steady increase” and less of a frenzied switch, said Ercole.
But that has not led to a surge in calls to gambling helplines, such as 1-800-GAMBLER.
That may be because live face-to-face counseling is on hold, said Ercole. The helplines often serve as a form of intake for counseling. And while some folks need the social contact meetings and in-person counseling provides, he added others have found remote counseling like video chat less intimidating.
Return of sports remains a potential challenge
Sports returning may present a challenge as pent-up demand once again has an outlet for gamblers.
“That void will be filled,” Ercole said. And that could “potentially intensify” issues for some.
He added, “Sports wagering had already changed brick-and-mortar gambling.”
He also said that physical casinos will be different places than they once were, with barriers, spacing, and other precautions changing the social atmosphere gambling halls previously fostered.
Have a game plan for responsible gaming
The American Gaming Association has offered a responsible gambling plan aimed at sports betting.
Key points include:
- Set a budget.
- Stick to the budget.
- Play socially.
- Stick to regulated gaming sites.
- Understand the games and the odds you wager on.