As new forms of regulated gambling have continued to become available in Ohio, the percentage of non-gamblers in the state has sharply decreased, while the rate of gamblers at risk of problem gambling has steadily increased.
According to a new study conducted by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and Ohio for Responsible Gaming, only 17 percent of the state’s population were identified as non-gamblers as of 2022.
The state-wide gambling prevalence study is conducted every five years, beginning with the state’s initial launch of land-based casinos in 2012.
At that time, more than 41 percent of the state was identified as non-gamblers, with that figure dropping to 25 percent in 2017.
As the number of gamblers has grown, so has the number of problem gamblers in the Buckeye State.
According to the survey, just under 20 percent of the state’s population, or an estimated 1.8m players, can be categorized as being at low or moderate risk of problem gambling, or as outright problem gamblers.
That figure is up from about 6 percent of the state’s population in 2012 and just over 10 percent in 2017.
“We know that with more access comes more use, whether that is alcohol and drug topics, whether that is gambling,” said Stacey Frohnapfel-Hasson, prevention chief for the state's Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “If you can buy cigarettes on every corner, at least in the old days, you are more likely to pick up a pack of cigarettes.”
“We’re also seeing normalization, across the nation really, of gambling,” added Amanda Blackford, director of operations and problem gambling services for the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC), which regulates land-based casino and sports wagering operations.
“With normalization also comes increased access and increased usage, so that’s certainly something we’re seeing within our state,” Blackford said.
The highest rates of at-risk gamblers identified by the survey were among 18-24 years olds, with 24 percent being designated as either at-risk or problem gamblers.
Discussing the survey before the OCCC last week, officials cited examples of youth-oriented games with gamified elements, such as claw machines, loot boxes in video games and trading cards, as examples of offerings that can ultimately lead to problem gambling behaviors as adults.
“One of the stories that we heard was an individual who started his gambling career buying Pokémon cards, they come in closed packs, you don’t know what you’re getting, you spend some money, you get ten or 20 cards…and that individual became obsessed,” Frohnapfel-Hasson said.
“The activities and the games that very young Ohioans are playing could be creating pathways in their brains,” she warned.
The survey found that just under half of the state’s players reported gambling online, a figure that is expected to increase with the January 1, 2023 launch of mobile sports betting in the state.
Blackford said the commission is now looking to do further research in problem gambling prevention specifically as it relates to mobile wagering.
“If we can engage with our operators to develop best practices, and what their gambling platforms look like, and how they're set up to drive responsible decision-making, that can truly be a game changer when it comes to prevention in this space,” she said.
“We have some operators who have expressed interest in partnering with us on that and allowing us to do some experiments with players in that space,” Blackford added.
“If we change how they're showing their winnings, or how they're showing their play, how does that change consumer behavior?”