NJ bet $33B on sports since 2018, gambling addiction soars – Asbury Park Press

NJ bet $33B on sports since 2018, gambling addiction soars – Asbury Park Press

People in New Jersey have wagered a whopping $33.7 billion on sports since it was legalized in 2018 — outpacing even Nevada, home to Las Vegas, in the same span. But data shows it may be coming at a cost for tens of thousands in the Garden State, who now find themselves ensnared by gambling addiction.
Calls to the state’s gambling helpline have nearly tripled since 2018, reaching more than 27,000 last year, according to the Council on Compulsive Gambling. Felicia Grondin, executive director of the council, blames the increases, at least in part, on “excessive” sportsbook advertising.
“A lot of this has to do with this being another means to gamble for compulsive gamblers,” Grondin said. “The advertising of sports book is excessive, there is no regulation associated with it, it is the wild west when it comes to sports books.”
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A forthcoming study from the Rutgers University Center for Gambling Studies finds that the rate of high-risk problem gamblers in New Jersey is triple the national average.
“New Jersey is saturated with gambling opportunities,” said Lia Nower, director the Gambling Studies Center. “It is because we have so many forms of gambling, accessible 24/7 and the states around us have it.”
The pending study found that about 13% of New Jersey residents qualify for what the study considers a gambling problem, compared to 3% to 5% nationwide. It also found that 6% of the state’s population is considered “high-risk” for gambling addiction, with just 2% at the national level.
But gaming proponents contend that the awareness of sports gambling due to the legalization four years ago in New Jersey has helped increase treatment opportunities for problem gamblers and lessened the stigma of seeking support.
“As gaming has continued to expand, so too, has awareness of and funding of problem gambling resources,” said Casey Clark, senior vice president of the American Gaming Association, which represents sports books and casinos. “It is encouraging that we are getting the right kind of tools and help to those who need them. Because of the expansion of sports betting, problem gambling resources have never been better funded than they are today. That is foundational for us.”
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Sports wagering became legal in New Jersey in 2018 after the legislature approved the change, which followed more than six years of pressure from pro-gambling outlets and legislators. The vote occurred a month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 1992 federal law barring such activity in most states.
Since then, New Jersey sports bets have continuously risen from $1.2 billion in 2018 to $4.5 billion in 2019; $5.9 billion in 2020; $10.8 billion in 2021, and, preliminarily, $10.9 billion in 2022.
Analysis of state sportsbook data shows New Jersey’s $33 billion wagering total has even outstripped Nevada, where more than $28 billion was wagered in the same span. It is the highest of any state in the nation, according to Legalsportsreport.com, which tracks wagering around the country.
Documents from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement show it’s been a financial boon to New Jersey as well. New Jersey raked in more than $453 million in gambling taxes in 2022, a 115% increase from 2018. The money raised is generally steered toward services for the elderly and those with developmental disabilities, though the state agency tasked with monitoring the funds, the Casino Revenue Fund Advisory Commission, has not published a budget or annual report on its website since 2020.
In the same span, calls to the state’s compulsive gambling hotline have increased from 9,445 in 2018 to 27,407 in 2021, the last year for which data is available, according to Grondin.
“We’ve seen a correlation in the amount wagered compared to the amount of helpline calls we’ve seen,” she said. “The more wagering, the more people are reporting a problem.”
Think you may have a gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER or visit 800gambler.org for resources on how to get help.
She said between 25% and 30% of calls are related to sports betting, which is easier to access through online sites such as Fanduel and DraftKings. She also pointed to the recent increased advertising of such sites and agreements with professional sports leagues to promote them.
“They glamourize it, with free bets, lines of credit, and make it seem like so much fun,” Grondin said. “Gambling is gambling. Once somebody catches that buzz they can be led into another form of gambling. Sportsbooks can lead to gambling problems with other forms, legal or illegal.”
Nower said the demographics of sports betters is concerning.
“It skews young and male. So you’ve got a real danger in kids in middle school and high school and college gambling on their parents accounts and there is no way to monitor. That is also seen as socially acceptable.”
Those operating sports betting outlets in New Jersey, either online or in person, must pay for a $100,000 sports wagering license, according to the legislation that legalized such wagering in 2018.
The law stipulates that half of that fee be deposited into the State’s General Fund for “appropriation by the Legislature to the Department of Health to provide funds for evidence-based prevention, education, and treatment programs for compulsive gambling.”
But state Health Department officials have declined requests to reveal the amounts set aside and offered no information on what programs they have financed.
“Specific allocation information is extremely difficult to acquire — we’ve tried,” Grondin said.
Legislation aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of sports wagering advertisements is currently in the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee, according to Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Bellevile), a co-sponsor.
The bill is a resolution that “condemns the over-proliferation of pro-gambling advertisements in the State of New Jersey” and “urges sports betting and gambling companies operating in the state … to exercise restraint and good judgment as they engage in advertisements.”
While it has no specific restrictions or mandates, Caputo believes it is a good move toward easing the impact of sports betting ads and their potential negative results.
“What really kicked this off is Covid,” Caputo said. “People were locked in their homes and picked up the addiction. There is the over marketing of the companies, a vicious attempt to get market share and kids are being affected by it. You talk to young kids and most of them are gambling already and it is due to these over the top ads.”
He also vows to propose additional legislation that would bar gambling sites from contracting with local universities to introduce gambling to students, a practice that has been done at Syracuse University, Louisiana State University and the University of Colorado.
“Imagine colleges giving incentives to get kids to gamble,” Caputo said.
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But he added, “We are limited because the advertising is in two states, you need the federal government to enact legislation. I want to work with the state Division of Gaming to do what they can do to control this.”
He also urged that pressure be put on the Federal Trade Commission to tighten their grip on such ads: “Maybe they need to be sued … It should be a class action suit, similar to the one against the vaping companies.”
Dan Trolaro, a recovering gambler who spent time in jail for embezzling funds to feed his addiction, agreed that the increased options are dangerous.
“It gives more opportunity for people to experience this novelty, it is new, it’s exciting, it’s different and the marketing is different,” he said. “When you are promoting a so-called ‘risk free’ bet you can get someone hooked that way. For a percentage of the population that becomes a habit.”
Trolaro, who grew up in Central Jersey, said he learned about gambling as a youngster: “It was low stakes, put a dollar on the games and it gave you a rooting interest, horse racing was my first love and it progressed from there.”
With a family friend who was a bookie “it progressively got worse. After Sept. 11, 2001, it took a turn for the worst. I was at Goldman Sachs and lost a lot of friends that day and it turned me to gambling to escape.”
He said he eventually embezzled money from clients at Prudential Insurance, where he worked, and spent four years in prison, then began volunteering with a crisis hotline in 2017.
Think you may have a gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER or visit 800gambler.org for resources on how to get help.
But Trolaro, who co-hosts a gambling addiction awareness show on WFAN Radio, said the legalization also helps promote options for addicts and those seeking help.
“There are more areas and avenues to seek help, no one really talked about gambling problems and it was not viewed as a real addiction before,” he said. “We are starting to see people feel more comfortable at talking about it and promote this concept that it is okay.”
Alan Feldman, a distinguished fellow on responsible gambling at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, International Gaming Institute, agreed.
“Now that you have some legalization, you also have some requirements that gambling sites promote access to help. I would hope that has helped those who need to seek treatment,” said Feldman. “If they are getting help that should be seen as a good thing.”
He said that problem gamblers are among the most difficult to identify and move into treatment because most have few outward signs like those of drug addicts or alcoholics.
“The best estimate is that about 15% of problem gamblers seek treatment, it has always been a very big struggle,” Feldman added. “But now there are more people seeking information about treatment information about where they might get support.”
Joe Strupp is an award-winning journalist with 30 years’ experience who covers education and several local communities for APP.com and the Asbury Park Press. He is also the author of three books, including Killing Journalism on the state of the news media, and an adjunct media professor at Rutgers University and Fairleigh Dickinson University. Reach him at [email protected] and at 732-413-3840. Follow him on Twitter at @joestrupp

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