It’s the time of the year when the sports betting and gambling industry drops their predictions for the year ahead. Experts weigh in with their projections for who will win the Super Bowl, March Madness, Kentucky Derby, so on and so forth. Legalized gaming pundits also release their forecasts for the four fiscal quarters to come. In response, it is our responsibility as authorities in the treatment of behavioral health disorders, including gambling addiction, to communicate to the American public what they should watch out for in 2024.
Top 5 Problem Gambling Predictions for America in 2024
1. Record Breaking Helpline Calls Run Concurrent with Record Wagering and Revenue
Not surprisingly, U.S. states reported record sports betting handle and revenues as they closed out 2023. For instance, iGamingBusiness reported that New York became the first state to report an online monthly betting handle higher than $2 billion (in October), a trend that persisted for three consecutive months into the end of December. Legal Sports Report (LSR) indicated that New York closed out the annum with nearly $3 billion in revenue. States such as Colorado posted more than comparable numbers. While the Centennial State state has about one-quarter of the population of New York, LSR reports that they posted nearly $15 billion in annual handle and over $1 billion in annual revenue.
Not surprisingly, this unparalleled sports betting revenue growth was accompanied by increased instances of public outcries for help. The New York State Comptroller’s Office reported a record increase in helpline calls regarding gambling addiction. In fact, problem gambling helpline calls increased at a record pace across the map. In one year to date report, Ohio experienced a 277% lift in helpline calls, while the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported a 171% spike. One of the early adopters in sports betting regulation, Virginia, saw a near 57% year-over-year increase in helpline calls, while Connecticut led the charge in this unfortunate category when they reported a 400% increase.
We suppose our prediction that helpline calls will grow concurrently with gambling revenue in 2024 isn’t so much of a prediction as it is an eventuality. While triple-digit percentage increases may persist in 2024, we expect these to translate to 10-15% above baseline numbers after the state market levels out, in the same manner that has occurred with the prescription drug addiction crisis. The real question to ask, is will states invest an equal proportion of their revenue growth in problem gambling support? Further, how much longer can the nation afford to not know what happens with the people that call? More to come as these stories develop.
2. Record Breaking League Suspensions
2023 was riddled with stories regarding professional and collegiate athlete suspensions for violating organizational sports betting policies. The NFL had the most violators at the professional league level. Four Detroit Lions players and three Indianapolis Colts along with one player each from the Tennessee Titans and Washington Commanders were suspended. Even the National Hockey League (NHL) handed out its first ever suspension for player involvement in sports betting since the proliferation of online gambling. The most concerning story came out of the NCAA however, as charges were filed against seven current or former Iowa and ISU players for violating sports betting policy and tampering with related federal evidence.
With record breaking sports betting activity heading into 2024, all signs point to record breaking suspensions for the Big 4 (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB) and the NCAA’s Division I football and basketball programs. What will the leagues and NCAA do, aside from doling out suspensions, to help correct this athlete mental and behavioral health crisis?
3. Regulation Hits Roadblock for Remaining U.S. States
Ever since the Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports betting, the map of U.S. states with legal sports betting grew like wildfire. As we enter 2024, this map counts 38 states. This growth is about to come to a screeching halt as states that many predicted (in 2023) to join the fold get stuck in limbo.
“But the odds for expansion to additional states appear iffy in 2024 because of political resistance and the sometimes competing financial interests of existing gambling operators.”AP News
We’re sure that competing financial interests of existing gambling operators are indeed a roadblock, but there is also hope that lawmakers are rethinking and/or reaffirming their legalization stances due to the very same data referenced above. Clearly more needs to be done to protect the mental/behavioral health of residents before joining the other U.S. states which now find themselves in a problem gambling crisis. Minnesota may fall, but otherwise we predict that remaining unregulated states will stay that way until better problem gambling support programs are first put in place.
*States where sports betting remains illegal are Alabama, Alaska, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.
4. Additional Operators Acknowledge Responsibility to Provide More Support
In 2023, two of the biggest players in the online sports betting market proved their dedication to being there for customers who are not able to gamble responsibly. Both BetMGM and DraftKings joined forces with Kindbridge Behavioral Health to create programs for players who may face problem gaming-related challenges, provisioning direct access to counseling and therapy resources. We predict that other operators will follow suit, especially if they want to protect themselves against state lawmaker and public relations outcry. This will occur in the sports betting and casino gaming sectors.
Operator acknowledgement of their role in building better support systems for problem gamblers isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart and sustainable thing to do from a pure business perspective.
5. Additional States Adopt Task Force Level Problem Gambling Platforms
2024 may see a Reagan era “War on Drugs” type of attack on problem gambling in the USA at a state-by-state level. At the very least, we predict that a number of states will adopt new and/or more robust task forces to combat this particular mental/behavioral health crisis. This projection is not far fetched by any means, as the State of Colorado has already dedicated resources to doing so. Colorado currently stands out across the nation as a model of problem gambling support and others are taking notice.
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