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Sports betting puts Ohioans increasingly at risk for problem gambling

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Ohio devotes significant resources to problem gambling, and more help is on the way, since 2% of the tax revenue that comes from sports betting will go toward problem gambling programs.

Those programs include:

• “Get Set Before You Bet,” which educates Ohioans on responsible gambling and how to prevent problem gambling. More than 10,000 people visited beforeyoubet.org in January. Ohio law requires gambling companies to “clearly and conspicuously” display the problem gambling hotline on their advertisements.

“Change The Game,” which provides tools, education and resources about youth gaming and gambling for parents, educators, students and prevention specialists. The campaign launched in 2019 and was expanded in 2021.

“Timeout Ohio,” which allows adults to voluntarily ban themselves from entering and gambling at one of Ohio’s four casinos and seven racinos.

Sportsbook employees are also trained to spot problem gambling behaviors — for instance, if your team loses and you scream, “My wife is going to kill me!” someone will likely talk to you about your betting — and gambling apps and websites also allow users to limit the time and money they spend on the sites each day.

“We really encourage people to utilize those tools,” Buzzelli said. “It’s just a reminder to keep yourself in check.”

Thing is, most responsible gambling tools revolve around the time period before or after placing wagers. Buzzelli would like to see operators reach out while customers are betting, and to focus their messaging on mental health and not just finances.

“If I’m gambling, it’s easy for me to ignore that $100 limit and say, ‘I’ll only bet $5 or $10 more,'” he said. “What I think would be really helpful is more mental health help during the gambling. If I lose a big bet, maybe the app says, ‘Hey Mike, are you feeling stressed?’ Or, ‘Is this no longer fun?’ Because that will make me think, ‘Wow, that was more than I could afford to lose. I am feeling stressed. Maybe I should put my phone down.’

“We’re not anti-gambling; we just want people to bet responsibly.”

No matter how many tools and mechanisms are put in place, prevention specialists are still fighting an uphill battle against an industry that saw more than $4 billion in revenue nationwide in 2021 and continues to grow.

“The industry has just flooded the marketplace (with ads),” Ruffing said. “You’ve got leagues and teams and media — you turn on SportsCenter or even daily programming — all these sports entities who have basically given their stamp of approval for gambling as part of the sporting experience. It’s this new wave of normalization.

“So that’s working against you. And then you’ve got your own biology working against you. The more you engage with this repetitive, dopamine-boosting activity, the harder it is to quit. That’s why the American Psychiatry Association deemed it an addictive disorder, not a moral failure.”

And that’s why Ruffing now spends his time sharing his story at industry conferences, small groups and even some sports teams — all in hopes of helping others like him.

“There’s a saying in the industry: sports betting and gambling in general isn’t really a money problem, it’s a life problem,” he said. “I basically want to raise awareness and educate people about how the system works and how many variables are stacked up against you.

“By sharing my story, I hope to start a conversation and also break the stigma of getting help if you need it.”

Joe Scalzo: [email protected], (216) 771-5256, @JoeScalzo01

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