Sports Betting Tourism Contributing to Problem Gambling Crisis?

Gambling tourism within the United States is nothing new. Of-age citizens have been flocking to Reno, Vegas, Atlantic City and the like since the first hotel casino (El Rancho) was erected on the Las Vegas Strip in 1941.

While the gambling tourism industry has seen stratospheric growth over the last eight decades, a fundamental shift began in 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court removed the Federal ban on sports betting. In doing so, they allowed each individual state to regulate the activity. Chomping at the bit, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Mexico permitted sports betting within just six months. From there, others followed like dominoes, bringing the current tally to 34 states (as of March 2023). That’s 68 percent who have chosen to roll the dice on generating tax revenue by allowing its residents to wager on everything from the big leagues to eSports. That being said, not all U.S. states are opting in so fast. A number are taking time to formulate a plan to support residents who are at-risk of developing gambling disorder. Others remain steadfast opponents. Experts predict Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah to hold the line against legalized sports betting in perpetuity, although doing so may be a moot point. Why? Because residents can travel to a neighboring state to bet on sports.

Below is a look at how efforts to protect Americans from the risk of problem gambling by not allowing in-state sports betting is not enough, and why more support is needed.

Why State Bans on Sports Betting Are Not Enough to Keep At-Risk Problem Gamblers Safe (and what else can be done)

It’s Legal to Bet on Sports in Another State

There’s nothing illegal about betting in a legal state if someone is not from there. A U.S. resident just needs to be within state borders.

With 34 U.S. states having legalized sports betting, the activity is within a short plane, train, or automobile ride away. Some can even bike or walk across state borders to bet on sports. Of all remaining U.S. states that have yet to legalize sports betting (as of March 2023) only Alaska, Hawaii, and South Carolina don’t share a border with one that does. You’d better believe that residents are capitalizing on this fact. Can’t bet on the Super Bowl in South Williamson, Kentucky? No problem, simply make the 10-minute stroll over the Harvey Street bridge to Williamson, West Virginia.

This may help explain what’s been happening in Ohio, which recently lifted their ban on sports betting at the onset of 2023. Ohio has experienced a 227% year-of-year increase in problem gambling helpline calls within just two months of sports betting being operational. That comes as no surprise. What is surprising to many, is that these helpline calls have been increasing for six consecutive years. This timeline coincides with the U.S. Supreme Court decision to deem the sports betting ban to be unconstitutional. We now ask you to consider this – Ohio shares borders with Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, and Michigan. These four states all legalized sports betting before the Buckeye State. It doesn’t take a geographer nor mathematician to draw a conclusion as to why problem gambling helpline calls have been increasing steadily since 2018.

“Can’t bet on the Super Bowl in South Williamson, Kentucky? No problem, simply make the 10-minute stroll over the Harvey Street bridge to Williamson, West Virginia.”

Domestic gambling tourism is becoming big business.

Limited Access to Mental Health Support Services

The ease of geographic access to sports betting for those residing in states that maintain a ban is one thing. But problem gamblers face another threat with respect to geography. Take Texas (where sports betting remains illegal) for example. An at-risk gambler in Houston can take a short drive to Louisiana (legal) as can a Dallas resident to Arkansas (legal). However, 53% of all Texans (15.18 million people) live in a community that does not have adequate access to mental health professionals. Meanwhile Kentucky, which is bordered by seven U.S. states with legal sports betting, has over 3 million residents who don’t have proper access to mental health professionals. Keep in mind that these access limitations are with respect to general mental health services. Imagine how much more limited the access is to therapists with expertise in gambling disorder treatment?

Domestic gambling tourism presents a very real problem for millions of at-risk gamblers in the USA, no matter where they reside. To ensure these residents can get the help they need, states that maintain a ban on sports betting must do their part to invest in in-state problem gambling resources. Moreover, to compensate for limited geographic access, they are called upon to help promote online therapy for gambling disorder.

This is where Kindbridge Behavioral Health Services comes in. We provide specialized gambling disorder therapy in a confidential, welcoming, and safe online environment to all Americans. Whether in Alaska (illegal) or West Virginia (legal) someone struggling with sports betting or casino gaming can get immediate help. Furthermore, we offer virtual gambling counseling for individuals, families, groups, and even athletic organizations.

Please share this article with your social and professional circle to help spread the call-to-action for Problem Gambling Awareness in 2023.