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Super Bowl Sunday is difficult for people with a gambling addiction and their families, experts say.

New Haven Register - 2/10/2024

Feb. 10—With Super Bowl Sunday comes watch parties, high budget commercials and plenty of snacking and drinking. But for people with a sports betting addiction, Super Bowl Sunday is a difficult time.

Dr. Marc Potenza, a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine told CT Insider that it is important to provide social support systems for those with gambling addictions during times like this. One of the most important things you can do to help, is be aware of those in your social circle.

"Unlike for alcohol or other substances where one can see that people are intoxicated, it may be harder to identify" a problem sports gambler, Potenza said. "I think we need to be mindful that there are a certain number of people who develop problems."

Roughly 90 percent of people with sports betting disorders don't end up in treatment, he said.

"There are data that indicate people see gambling as less harmful than substance use disorders," Potenza said. "There's also a greater threshold needed for making a diagnosis of a gambling disorder than a substance use disorder."

Help is available, however. The Connecticut Problem Gambling Helpline offers 24-7 calls with trained specialists at 1-888-789-7777. These calls can be anonymous, if desired, and can link people with treatment providers.

"It is important to learn the signs of problem gambling and to practice responsible gaming habits," state Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull said. "Big events like the Super Bowl can be an exciting opportunity for adults who participate in sports wagering, but they can also be triggering for individuals who experience gambling addiction. We're reminding all adults who choose to place bets this weekend to do so responsibly. That means setting limits on time and money spent, and adhering to them."

Potenza told CT Insider that there was a long history of people who struggled with sports betting addiction during major sporting events. He likened it to historical cases of horse race gamblers finding it difficult to control themselves during the Kentucky Derby when horse betting was more widespread.

More people are planning to bet on the Super Bowl than ever, and not just on the game itself, but everything from different types of plays that will be made to the color of gatorade that will be spilled on the winning coach. The American Gaming Association estimates that about 67.8 million American adults are planning on betting on the game this year, a 35 percent increase over last year.

Legalized sports betting is still relatively new in this country. In 2018 the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that had effectively banned sports betting in most states. Sports betting is now legal in 48 states, including Connecticut. Since then, sports betting has grown exponentially as an industry. States make money by licensing third parties to take bets, which can be made easily on a smartphone. Connecticut taxes the profits of sports book operators at a rate of 13.75 percent.

"We've really had this huge proliferation of sports wagering and sports betting across the country," said Shane Kraus, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in a virtual presentation Wednesday for the media on sports gambling addiction. "I think that 2024 will be an even bigger year than prior years."

Kraus said that in the past six years of legal sports betting, over $306 billion has been handled as part of sports wagers with $25 billion in gross revenue. For the 2023 Super Bowl he said that in Nevada alone, about $150 million in bets were placed through casinos and sports books.

Connecticut has also experienced a growing trend of sports gambling since legal betting began here in October of 2021. That first month about $55 million was wagered, making it the lowest month on record, according to Legal Sports Report. In December of 2023, Connecticut had its highest month of sports betting ever, with roughly $212 million wagered.

According to a recent research review article, worldwide sports betting legalization is strongly associated with elevated levels of problematic gambling. Social media, advertising and influencer culture are also believed to have a strong role promoting problematic gambling, experts say.

Potenza said that the ease of betting on cellphone or tablet apps also contributed to the growth of both sports betting and problematic gambling. He said that the Gambling Help Hotline in Connecticut had experienced a 90 percent increase in calls for help in 2022, after the onset of legal sports betting in the state.

"It's estimated that over 100,000 people in the state of Connecticut are affected by gambling-related concerns or harms," Potenza said. "With an additional seven-fold greater number of family members adversely impacted" financially and emotionally.

Gambling addiction is classified in the substance-related addictive disorder category in the current edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the "bible" of mental health. That's because like other addictive disorders, gambling addiction is caused by over-active "reward" mechanisms in the brain, Potenza explained.

The neurological mechanisms for pleasure and reward processing are heightened in people with gambling addictions when they experience monetary rewards. In people with substance use disorders, those same mechanisms are over-active when stimulated by things like alcohol.

Potenza told CT Insider that gambling addiction had a genetic component, but that it was strongly influenced by environmental factors. But there's a lot of unknows, he said. Part of the problem is a lack of research. Funding for gambling disorder research is scarce compared to other forms of addiction, Potenza said. If Congress passes the GRIT Act that could mean millions of dollars for treatment, research and recovery, he added.

Most treatments for gambling disorders borrow heavily from psychological interventions and fellowship interventions, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and similar 12-step programs.

"There are support systems and communities that promote abstinence," said Potenza. "Having social connections and doing things other than the addictive behavior can be helpful around these times. But yes, it can be challenging."

Feb 10, 2024

By Vincent Gabrielle

Vincent Gabrielle is a reporter with Hearst Connecticut Media Group. He is an award-winning science journalist who has covered COVID-19, Manhattan Project legacy waste disposal, cryptocurrency miners and mountain snorkelers. Raised in western Massachusetts, he's lived all over the country and worn a lot of unusual hats. You can find him on weekends looking for horseshoe crabs near New Haven.


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