Illinois Population At Risk Of Problem Gambling, Report Finds

June 21, 2022
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The Illinois Department of Human Services has released its first ever problem gambling report, which found more than 11 percent of the state’s population either has a gambling problem or is at risk of developing one.

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The Illinois Department of Human Services has released its first ever problem gambling report, which found more than 11 percent of the state’s population either has a gambling problem or is at risk of developing one.

The 250-page report prepared by Health Resources in Action and released on Thursday (June 16) found that 3.8 percent of Illinois residents are considered to have a gambling problem with 7.7 percent at risk of developing one.

“The report is incredibly disheartening to read but not entirely shocking,” said Brianne Doura-Schawohl, founder and CEO of Doura-Schawohl Consulting in Washington, D.C.

“Research has been pretty clear that during an initial introduction of any new form of gambling, the number of people that will suffer harm will increase,” Doura-Schawohl said. “The state has historically invested very little into researching, preventing, educating, and treating this addiction. Prior to sports wagering, Illinois already had a pretty robust gambling market.”

Researchers studied the prevalence of different types of gambling in the state, the availability of treatment and other services, the prevalence of problem gambling among different groups, and overall attitudes about gambling.

The report found that in an average year, problem gamblers estimated that they spent a median of $16,750 on gambling. Researchers also found that 68 percent of Illinois adults reported gambling in the last year, with the lottery being the most popular form of gambling.

Some 33 percent of those surveyed said they gambled with friends over the past year, while 15.3 percent wagered on organized sports, and online gambling made up about 12.6 percent of respondents’ gambling activities.

Illinois is reportedly set to spend $10m in the upcoming state budget on problem gambling prevention. A recent Commission of Government Forecasting and Accountability report showed the state collected $1.358bn in tax revenues from gambling last year.

The most common forms of gambling that problem gamblers reported engaging in weekly or more were online gaming (72.3 percent), racetracks (71.4 percent), and the lottery (69.9 percent), the report found.

“If the state had invested in research prior to now, prevalence rates may have already been elevated over the estimated national average of 1 to 2 percent,” Doura-Schawohl told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

“Thus, with the legalization of sports wagering, it likely exacerbated an already existing and concerning problem. Compounding the issue.”

In fact, according to the 2016 problem gambling services survey, Illinois was one of the lowest performing states in the nation, she said.

In 2016, Illinois ranked 28 out of 50 U.S. states in terms of per capita public funds dedicated to problem gambling services. The average allocation of per capita funds in Illinois is 8 cents, whereas the national average is 37 cents per capita.

There has been significant growth in commercial gambling in the past 40 years, in Illinois and nationally.

Most recently, Democratic Governor J.B Pritzker signed a bill in June 2019 that legalized sports betting, authorized up to six new casinos, allowed gaming at racetracks, and expanded video gaming terminals (VGTs) in restaurants, taverns and truck stops.

At the end of May, there were 42,965 VGTs at 7,965 locations, according to the Illinois Gaming Board.

“Illinois is a stellar example of why it's so imperative that states commit sufficient resources to researching, preventing, and treating gambling addiction when legalizing and expanding any type of gambling within a jurisdiction,” Doura-Schawohl said.

“While I commend Illinois for its $10m allocation to the budget next year to remedy this issue, and I hope that funding amount continues in perpetuity, it would have been prudent to have secured funding directly within all gambling legislation that was sufficient at commencement.”

The report found that 61.5 percent of Illinois residents believed the current availability of gambling opportunities is appropriate, while 22.8 percent believed it is too widely available, 8.3 percent believed gambling should not be legal in Illinois, and 7.4 percent believed gambling is not available enough.

People with problem gambling (29.2 percent) were the group most likely to believe gambling was too widely available in the state, the report found.

“The state is now facing what I might define as a public health crisis, which is bigger than it ever needed to be, all because the state did not address this properly all along,” Doura-Schawohl said.

“For those 15 states that have not yet legalized sports wagering and to all the states that have legalized gambling of any kind (with little or no supports for gambling addiction) may this serve as a cautionary tale of what's to potentially come and more importantly a call for action,” she said.

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