This news may come as somewhat of a surprise, considering Virginia just had its first casino opening in July. The state ranks in the top half of the country for problem gambling, according to personal finance website WalletHub’s April 2022 report.
Sports betting in Virginia, became legal in January 2021. That could have something to do with the state landing at No. 19 for problem gambling.
WalletHub’s metrics for its report included:
- Commercial and tribal casinos per capita
- Lottery sales per capita
- The legality of sports betting
- Daily fantasy sports availability
- Horse race gambling
- State’s share of adults 18 and older with a gambling disorder
- And Gamblers Anonymous meetings per capita
Problem gambling defined
Problem gambling has been called “the silent addiction,” according to the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling (VCPG).
The range for gambling addiction stretches from “No Problem” to “Severe Problems,” in which the clinical criteria for a gambling disorder are met.
- Preoccupation with gambling
- The need to bet more money more frequently to achieve the desired excitement (the “rush”)
- Restlessness/irritability resulting from attempts to stop gambling
- “Chasing” losses
- Loss of control manifesting as “continuation of gambling behavior despite mounting, serious, negative consequences”
The VCPG sums up a gambling disorder as displaying the presence of the “three C’s” — craving, continuing the behavior, and loss of control.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition (DSM-5) also lists symptoms of gambling disorder:
- Repeated tries at controlling, cutting back on, or stopping gambling
- Gambling to relieve distress
- Lying to conceal gambling
- Relying on others to provide money to relieve the financial consequences of gambling
The DSM-5 separates gambling disorders into mild, moderate, and severe categories, depending on how many symptoms are present.
WalletHub separates recreational or social gambling from problem gambling.
Most importantly, recreational gamblers “are mentally able to quit at any point and prevent catastrophic financial loss.”
On the other hand, a male gambling addict may run up a debt of $55,000 to $90,000. Female gambling addicts have debts of around $15,000.
The lack of resources to pay off such debts may result in more debt and sometimes even criminal behavior.
Virginia is the first state to educate children at risk
Adults aren’t the only ones to fall prey to problem gambling isn’t limited to adults. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, 60-80% of high school students have reported gambling for money in the past year.
The council says 4-6% of those teenagers — and sometimes pre-teens — can be considered addicted to gambling.
National Council on Problem Gambling Executive Director Keith Whyte adds:
“The vast majority of American kids never receive a focused message on the dangers of gambling addiction.”
And while the risks for gambling addiction grew by 30% from 2018 to 2021, Whyte said, the risk is concentrated among males age 18-24.
Sports betting is the main draw for the young males. Thirty states and the District of Columbia already have sports betting. Lawmakers and governors in five more states also approved sports betting.
‘Kids who have problems fall through the cracks,” Whyte said.
Kids see all those TV gambling ads, too. But underfunded state gambling addiction services concentrate on adult problem gambling.
However, this spring Virginia Gov. Glenn Younkin signed into law a bill addressing problem gambling among kids. It received almost unanimous legislative support.
The bill was sponsored by general assemblyman Sam Rasoul. It’s the first state law in the country that requires public schools teach students about gambling risks.
It also requires the Virginia Board of Education to develop educational materials on gambling and distribute them to all school divisions.
How to get help for problem gambling in Virginia
The US collects $7.6 billion in annual federal gambling tax revenue. But, no federal agency is responsible for preventing and treating problem gambling. In other words, no money goes to gambling addiction treatment or prevention.
Where help is available
- Virginia Problem Gambling Help Line 1 (888) 532-3500
- Gamblers Anonymous (www.gamblersanonymous.org) – offers a 12-step program for Problem Gambling
- Gam-Anon (www.gam-anon.org). Self-help organization for the spouse, family, or close friends of a problem gambler
- GamTalk (www.gamtalk.org) – 24/7 moderated online peer support forum
How Virginia’s problem gambling compares to other states
Debt.org puts the number of American adults addicted to gambling at 5 million. WalletHub puts the percentage at 1-3% and ranks Mississippi as the top state.
Whyte cautions, however, that “it’s incredibly hard to find good numbers.” His reason for saying that?
“State governments and the gambling industry don’t want people to know how big a problem this is.”
Other states also ranked highly in problem gambling. They don’t need legal gambling venues to make WalletHub’s list. For example, Texas, came in right behind Virginia at No. 20. Texas prohibits casino gambling and sports betting.
North Dakota and Massachusetts don’t have sports betting. But, they ranked in the top half as well.
Which state landed at No. 1? Unsurprisingly, it’s Nevada, the home of Elvis impersonators, quickie divorces and slots galore.
Its neighbor Utah, which doesn’t even have a lottery let alone other forms of legal gambling, came in last.
Overall, US gamblers lost around $120 billion last year. As Missouri gambling addiction counselor Daniel Smith said about sports betting last spring, “You can lose your shirt very easily.”