Creating the Necessary Balance

As Americans, we love our sports. We love our Super Bowls, our World Series, our March Madness, our Stanley Cups, our Championships, our Brickyard 500’s, our X games, and everything else that is a true testament to competition. We love sports so much we build shrines to the heroes of our past times, we name school buildings after them, bridges, highways, food items, clothing items, you name it and there’s a product that fits comfortably into our everyday lives with one of the talented men or women’s name attached to it that we so eagerly watch religiously any given day of the week, in any season of the year. 

Sports are our pastime. They are our comfort zone. They are a reason we can all sit gathered in a group (pandemic permitting) and oooh and awwwh, and boo and cheer, poke fun at our friends that are pulling for the other team when they’re down, take it on the chin from the same person when you’re team blows a play, and celebrate in extreme jubilation at the blow of the final horn for victory. Sports breeds camaraderie, friendship, and community amongst us. This we know to be true. 

While most of us have fixed in our heads the rose-tinted glasses and the romantic fantasy that sports provide us as a temporary distraction from our reality, we need to be aware that there are others out there that don’t leave the losses on the court. That don’t stop obsessing over their hero missing the shot, that can’t enjoy it for the entertainment factor alone. There are people out there that view sports as a financial instrument, a vehicle that they can invest a chunk of their capital in because the odds are good, the line on the game is sound, they have done their homework on the players, the coaches, the home field stats, the away stats, the climate at kick off, who’s wearing their lucky wristband, who’s on the IR, who played well yesterday, who plays well every match up against the two teams, who knows what experts make the right picks, and what their gut is telling them about who is going to have a break out game or who is going to fall on their face. They consider all of these factors, or, some consider none of these factors. Some simply look at their bank account and say to themselves, I’m not going to make the bills this month, but the Giants are a sure loss this week so I can double my money if I head down to the track. They place the bet. Some win, some lose. And the action triggers a series of events and a train of thought in that persons head that says either, yes, this is the answer to my problems, or uh oh, now I’m in real trouble, if only I would have won, this would have been the answer to my problems. 

Some people go to unimaginable lengths when they’re down and out. Some people cannot help but continue the vicious cycle over and over and over again. Addiction takes form in many shapes and sizes. Sports betting and online casino can be a real joy for people that utilize the mediums as entertainment. For those that can’t just see it as a fun Friday night out or a quick flash in the pan because we’re feeling a bit lucky today and think, yea, I’ll buy that lottery ticket just on the off chance, there are some things that you need to know about what will soon be at your doorstep and in your hands…

Currently, there are 48 states that have some form of legalized gambling, with Hawaii and Utah being the only two without any form… including the lottery.  But once the Professional and Amatuer Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) was overturned by the Supreme Court, many states across America have made the decision to legalize sports betting or are in the process of legalizing sports betting.  Looking at this map, a snapshot in time, it doesn’t take long to realize that almost 40+ states will have some form of legalized sports betting before the end of 2021. 

For legislatures, this is a dream come true, an answer to the gaping holes in their budgets, a strategy to reinvest millions of taxpayer dollars into education and infrastructure. Promises we can all get behind, no doubt. From a public health standpoint, we need to be aware that we are ill equipped. And we need a plan.

States will simply not have the resources to manage an increase in treatment capacity for gamblers suffering addiction and/or additional mental health comorbidities.  America already has several behavioral health provider issues including desserts, lack of funding, lack of specializations among other barriers to accessing adequate care. The Mental Health in America annual report highlights the gap that continues to exist between those who need mental health care and the providers who can provide it.  

With Gambling Addiction, it is no different. As these states continue to increase the access and availability of gambling, both brick and mortar and online, the number of treatment providers available is not increasing at a pace consistent with the demand. When the world experienced a global pandemic, mental health providers were considered the silent first responders and were met with increased demand.  This demand also includes those that fell into problematic and disordered gambling when everything went online. Yet some states do not even have state-wide systems of experienced and trained providers for gambling addiction.  Texas is but one example that only has 2 trained clinicians listed on the NCPG website, but they are pending legislation for sports betting. A state the size of Texas should have a robust number of providers. 

The mental health provider landscape, with its barriers for state funding and inconsistent expectations of what is considered a qualified gambling addiction counsellor, is due for some disruption. The book needs throwing out and re-writing. Barriers to access need to be eliminated, insurance providers need to be approached so that more people can utilize the safety net for their health that they so heavily invest in every year, programs need to be put in place that train a standing army of mental health providers with the necessary tools to not just identify when gambling in a primary cause for concern in a patient, but how to successfully treat it and provide a treatment plan that drives a high quality outcome for the individual. Research needs doing around virtual treatment outcomes. Measurements and data points need definition and interpretation to advance and adapt treatment approaches to a tele-medicine setting so that we as providers of care, have a better chance at helping people in need from afar. We as providers need to know how to operate across state lines successfully so that we can expand our reach into states that have next to zero experience with gambling and gaming addictions. There’s a lot that needs doing, and we at Kindbridge are dedicated to doing it.

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