Gambling Addiction Rates Hit All-Time High in U.S.

Mar 13, 2024

The U.S. is entering uncharted waters with the sheer number of gambling addiction cases across the country. Americans can now bet on sports legally in 38 states plus Washington DC (including 30 states with the online/mobile option), and that convenience of betting is leading many Americans toward unhealthy gambling behaviors. After living in the shadows for decades, sports betting is becoming ingrained in American sporting culture, as an estimated 68 million people were expected to bet on the Super Bowl last month, per the American Gaming Association. It’s rare to watch any professional sports event nowadays without being bombarded by advertisements and integrations featuring the likes of DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and Caesars.

Problem gambling addiction rates have reached an all-time high in the U.S., so today we’ll dive into the statistics and facts behind the country’s growing epidemic of gambling addiction.

Gambling Addiction rates rising rapidly

As sports betting has become legal in more states and grown in popularity, the rates of problem gambling have also sadly soared to new heights. The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) estimates approximately 2 million adults in the U.S. are severely addicted to gambling, and another 4-6 million people have mild to moderate gambling problems. Furthermore, The NCPG saw a 30% increase in gambling problems from when sports betting was first legalized in 2018 to 2023.

New Jersey was the first state to legalize sports betting in the United States, and they have seen some dramatic increases in gambling addiction. In 2018, 11.5% of people who contacted New Jersey’s gambling support service and disclosed their age were under 25. During the first 10 months of 2023, that age bracket accounted for 19.6% of calls, texts or chat messages, per The Guardian.

It is no secret that gambling addiction is growing rapidly. The NCPG estimates approximately 5 million Americans meet the criteria for compulsive gambling. What is even more disturbing is that only 8 percent of these people will ever seek help for their problem, per Rutgers Addiction Research Center. The United States is threatened with a significant public health concern as Americans are betting more frequently and often not receiving the treatment they need.

Gambling among College Students 

Problem gambling among college students has become a widespread issue across the United States. Three out of four college students were estimated to have gambled in 2023, according to one research study. It is more likely than not that if you walked onto a college campus right now you’d hear chatter about the point spread for a big game or what team they are putting their money on. 

Statistically speaking, college students are a lot more at risk than other populations in terms of developing unhealthy gambling habits. A meta-analysis conducted by the University of Buffalo found that 1 in 10 college students is a pathological gambler. This is far higher than the estimated 2-5% of the U.S. population that deal with a gambling problem. 

The NCAA released a study in May 2023 which surveyed gambling behavior of 3527 college students between the ages of 18-22. The study found that 58% of students had engaged in at least one form of sports betting during the previous 12 months, per SBCAmericas. Keep in mind that the NCAA prohibits college student-athletes and athletic staffers from betting on sports, but there have already been multiple gambling-related scandals in recent years. 

Sports betting has been grabbing the attention of college students, and sportsbooks are looking to cash in on this prime audience target that could bet for decades on their platforms. However, the scary truth is that they are also one of the most vulnerable populations for potentially developing a gambling addiction. 

Florida already seeing increases

Online sports betting in Florida resumed in December 2023 after new rulings in a lengthy legal battle that is still ongoing. Since then, sports betting in the Sunshine State has been booming. However, the state is also already seeing sharp increases in problem gambling among Floridians. 

The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling is struggling to meet all the demand for calls to their gambling addiction hotline. Executive Director Jennifer Kruse said that calls to the hotline increased over 138% from December 2023 to January 2024 (WPTV). According to Axios, Florida ranked 34th out of 44 states in per capita public funds earmarked for problem gambling services. With legal online sports betting now live, the limited problem gambling resources in the state are already becoming overwhelmed.

Lack of national Gambling Addiction data

Currently, there is limited national gambling addiction data, since funding for treatment is provided solely on a state-by-state basis. As of now, there is no federal funding for gambling addiction, despite there being billions of dollars in funding for alcohol, tobacco and drug addiction. However, this could change very soon.

The National Council on Problem Gambling proposed the Gambling Addiction Recovery Investment and Treatment (GRIT) Act which would use new federal tax revenue for treatment and research. The GRIT Act would set aside half of the federal sports excise tax specifically for gambling addiction treatment and research. Federal funding for problem gambling treatment could help the states who desperately need help to provide care options to their residents struggling with addictions. 

Media spotlight shining more on Problem Gambling 

A bit of good news is that national and local media have been increasing their focus on gambling addiction. Bringing this topic into the spotlight should encourage more action by state legislators to do more and offer additional services to help with this growing problem. 

  • 60 Minutes (CBS): During the week of the Super Bowl, 60 Minutes aired a long segment about how the increase in sports betting popularity is leading to an unprecedented amount of problem gambling. A part of this piece focused on how sports betting companies are using targeted advertisements and AI to lure bettors in and encourage increased betting activity.

  • Outside the Lines (ESPN): Outside the Lines aired a miniseries on ESPN about the history of sports betting in the U.S. and the gambling capital, Las Vegas. For years, professional sports teams wanted nothing to do with Sin City to protect their reputation. Nowadays, teams are playing in Las Vegas, hosting events and partnering with sportsbooks.

  • CBS News: America’s growing gambling addiction was showcased in a piece from CBS News. Sportsbooks are targeting young people who are more likely to have a high “Lifetime Value” (LTV) - a key performance indicator in the sports betting industry - since they have many decades of their lives ahead of them, during which they can theoretically be sportsbook customers and will likely lose money gambling long term.

Gambling Addiction help and resources

With gambling addiction on the rise, it is important to understand the resources available to you or someone you know in case there may be an issue. Birches Health has top gambling addiction treatment specialists that provide custom treatment plans to help overcome behavioral addictions. Call (833) 483-3838 or email hello@bircheshealth.com to receive personal, affordable and confidential treatment.

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An Explosion in Sports Betting Is Driving Gambling Addiction Among College Students

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New U.S. Gambling Stats: Record figures as Addiction also grows - Birches Health

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Record 68 Million Americans to Wager $23.1B on Super Bowl LVIII

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Calls to Florida's gambling helpline spike amid legal sports betting - Axios Tampa Bay

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