The start of legal sports betting last week has already changed the landscape of gambling in Ohio. With more adults engaging in gambling because of easy access to online betting and betting locations throughout the state, responsible gambling advocates are hard at work making sure that treatment is available and responsible gambling messages are spread. And amid all that change, one group deserves particular attention: youth.
In Ohio, anyone under the age of 21 cannot legally engage in gambling in casinos or online sports betting. But that doesn’t stop them from being exposed to advertisements about gambling or gaming. Many online video games contain mechanics that are similar to gambling, like loot boxes and skin trading, which can simulate gambling and condition youth for early gambling behaviors.
Similarly, youth are being exposed to sports betting in Ohio despite not being allowed to engage in it. Advertisements for betting apps now have a regular presence on the airwaves during sports events. Many ads feature celebrities and prominent sports figures, who often have an outsized influence on young people, and tout the game-like speed and functionality of betting online.
Those two things in combination are a cause for concern. Exposure to online gambling mechanics and the availability of easy online sports betting could create a worrying prospect: some young sports fans who are conditioned to gamble through online games and sports betting advertising could start to struggle with various forms of problem gambling when they’re old enough to engage legally.
Studies have shown that children who are exposed to gambling when they’re young are more likely to develop a problem with gambling. Children who are exposed before age 12 are four times more likely to develop a problem with gambling, and about 6.5% of 14-21 year-olds are at risk for problem gambling.
Some Ohio gambling addiction service providers are already seeing young people who are struggling with problem gambling after being conditioned through online video games. “I’m actually seeing an 18-year-old right now, that student here in Ohio, coming in with a good history of gambling,” Maryhaven certified gambling counselor Bruce Jones recently told NBC 4 Columbus.
Though the long-term impacts of sports betting on Ohio’s youth are not yet certain, one thing is known: taking time to talk with the children in your life about the dangers of youth gambling and spreading the word about the dangers of youth gambling can help protect Ohio’s youth. That’s where Change the Game Ohio can help. The Change the Game Ohio web site contains a multitude of information about the dangers of youth gambling, as well as discussion guides for caretakers, educators, and youth.
And if you think you or someone you know might have a problem with gambling, do not hesitate to call the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline. It’s available 24/7, and lets you speak with trained and understanding specialists offering free and confidential support by calling 1-800-589-9966 or texting 4HOPE to 741741.