March Madness is a blast. Gambling addiction is not. The two may collide this time of the year, when Americans are expected to bet more than $3 billion.
At the same time, and coinciding with the NCAA basketball championships by design, the Colorado Lottery is stepping up its efforts to combat gambling addiction during March’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month. The Lottery does this in conjunction with several partners and stakeholders.
- National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG)
- Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado (PGCC)
- Public health organizations
- Treatment providers
- Advocacy groups
- Gambling operators
- Gaming regulators
Colorado ranks 18th for most gambling-addicted state
The month’s collaborative mission is to publicize the resources available to Colorado residents experiencing gambling problems. Last year, Colorado ranked 18th on Wallet Hub’s list of most gambling-addicted states.
Tom Seavor, director of the Colorado Lottery, said his agency continues to increase its commitment to Problem Gambling Awareness Month.
“The Colorado Lottery has more than doubled its monetary commitment to Problem Gambling Awareness Month in recent years, increasing support to over $200,000 this year. As a gaming organization, we want to do more. To execute our commitments made in our Level 4 World Lottery Association (WLA) certification, we have engaged a responsible gaming expert consultant to help ensure that all of our practices align with responsible gaming best practices to ensure we’re part of the solution, not the problem.”
Lottery aims for ‘healthy play’
The Colorado Lottery regularly reinvests its proceeds “to enhance, protect, [and] improve parks, trails and open spaces” in the state. Meghan Dougherty, communications director at the agency, recently told Play Colorado that “without healthy Lottery play, our funding source to a sustainable outdoor economy is at risk.”
So, to encourage that healthy play, this month the agency is running its annual Know Your Limits campaign. It does so, Dougherty says, “in a way that resonates with our state players” by depicting the enjoyment of outdoor sports.
Other states observing Problem Gambling Awareness Month include New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and also Nevada. Some activities associated with the month include:
- Public service announcements
- Health screening days
- Social media campaigns
This year’s hashtag for the campaign across various social media platforms is #PGAM2023.
There’s a word for compulsive gambling
The word “ludomania” sounds like it might be something fun, like a club or a game show. What is really means, though, is the “urge to continuously gamble despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop.” Those “harmful negative consequences” can compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family and vocational pursuits, according to the Colorado Lottery.
In the US, about two million adults (1% of the population) meet the criteria for severe problem gambling, according to estimates. Four to six percent meet the criteria for mild or moderate problem gambling. The Mayo Clinic has said that gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system, similar to alcohol. And the impulse-control disorder of gambling addiction can be progressive, according to medicalnewstoday.com.
At the other end of the spectrum, Wallet Hub defines the healthier experience of recreational or social gambling as occasionally buying a lottery ticket or visiting a casino. Such gamblers can quit at any point, preventing catastrophic financial loss.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, someone who experiences at least four of these over a year has a gambling disorder:
- Need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to feel the excitement
- Restlessness or irritability when trying to stop gambling
- Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop, control or reduce gambling
- Thinking often about gambling and making plans to gamble
- Gambling when feeling distressed
- Returning to gamble again after losing money
- Lying to conceal gambling activities
- Experiencing relationship or work problems due to gambling
- Depending on others for money to spend on gambling
Losses mount during big gambling months
According to Wallet Hub, annual gambling losses in the US total over $100 billion. The average debt of men siuffering gambling addiction is between $50,000 and $90,000. For women, it’s $15,000.
According to the PGCC, here in Colorado, two of the months with the highest volumes of calls to its gambling hotline in 2022 were February (829 calls) and March (611 calls), the months of the Super Bowl and March Madness.
Online sports betting is a ‘bookie in your hand’
Play Colorado spoke about Problem Gambling Awareness Month with Peggy Brown, president of the all-volunteer PGCC. She said that money spent on sports betting in the state has been astronomical, citing the easy access to mobile sports betting as a primary factor.
Brown calls cell phones “the bookie in your hand.” Mobile sports betting may particularly appeal to younger people who’ve spent their whole lives online.
Overall, though, Brown is optimistic, saying she’s “pleased at the progress of the past year,” with new legislation and also funding awarded through grants in February.
“The state is stepping up.”
The PGCC is partnering with EPIC Risk Management on a new help program. EPIC is working with the NCAA to provide a comprehensive prevention program to college athletes and also administrators. Colorado will expand the program to community colleges. Brown hopes the information will “bleed down” to high school students, as well.
The PGCC is also opening its new Problem Gambling Center, hopefully sometime this month. The walk-in center, funded through the state, will offer appointments with a therapist and more services.
Colorado Lottery keeps up the effort year-round
Like the PGCC, the Colorado Lottery extends its problem gambling outreach beyond March.
The agency offers year-round interactive tools with “an open and approachable tone,” including its “Bust the Myths” quiz and “Decision Tree.” According to Dougherty, for fiscal year 2023, the Lottery has increased its digital budget by 74%.
Also, from Thanksgiving to Christmas 2022, the Lottery reminded 230,000 Coloradans an average of five times on Facebook about playing responsibly during holiday time. That constituted an increase of 1,000% over 2021.
Last year, the agency became one of 14 US lotteries to achieve the WLA’s Level 4 certification that director Seavor mentioned. That’s the highest level in the WLA’s Responsible Gaming framework.
You can view the Wallet Hub report here.