How big of a problem is Gambling Addiction in the United States?

May 22, 2024

As sports betting and online gambling have become increasingly popular and much more easily accessible in recent years, the rates of Gambling Addiction across the United States have increased notably. There are now 38 states offering some form of regulated sports betting, including 30 with the online/mobile options that bring gambling to the fingertips of millions from the comfort of their homes. 

This article provides a comprehensive view, tracing the historical context, examining the rise of online sports betting, and exploring legislative efforts to support problem gambling resources. Despite the prevalence of gambling addiction, there is currently no significant designated federal government funding for research, prevention and treatment.

History of Gambling Addiction in the U.S.

Birches Health’s previous article “Exploring the History of Gambling in the US“ explores the longstanding relationship between the country and gambling. It has had a considerable influence dating back to the colonial era, with some of the first states and universities founded on lottery proceeds. As westward migration increased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, gambling also grew, leading to more widespread problem gambling and links to fraud and organized crime, which prompted leaders to ban it during the Prohibition era.

In the post-World War II era, there was a positive shift in attitudes toward gambling, leading to a resurgence across the country. In 1957, Gamblers Anonymous was formed, creating a 12-step recovery program and a community aimed at treating problem gambling through peer support.

The 1970s saw growing recognition of gambling addiction as a public health issue. The first institution and treatment program for gambling addiction was established in 1972 with the founding of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognized pathological gambling as a mental health disorder, marking a significant step in acknowledging and addressing the issue.

Efforts to regulate and mitigate the impact of gambling addiction have increased, with states implementing responsible gambling measures, including self-exclusion programs, awareness campaigns, and funding for treatment programs. Ongoing research continues to inform public policy and treatment approaches. The DSM-5, published in 2013, reclassified pathological gambling as "gambling disorder" and recognized it alongside substance-related addictions.

Since the repeal of PASPA in 2018, sports betting and online gambling have grown significantly, leading to soaring gambling revenues as more states legalize these activities. Despite this growth, The NCPG estimates that 9 million American adults suffer from a gambling problem, resulting in a national social cost of $14 billion annually, encompassing criminal justice expenses, healthcare costs, career impacts, family financial issues, and general well-being.

Growth of sports betting and online gambling

The New York State Gaming Commission recently reported a surge in sports betting revenue, reaching $1.97 billion in handle for April, a 6.2% increase from March. This near-$2 billion mark ranks fourth all-time for a single month since PASPA was overturned and represents a 20.6% revenue increase for New York compared to April 2023. 

While many states saw a dip in handle from March, New York’s numbers reflect the broader rise of the gambling industry across the country. Statista's models project that online sports betting revenue will reach $9.65 billion by the end of 2024, compared to half a billion in 2018 and $3.77 billion by 2021. By 2029, a further 13% increase is projected, reaching $17 billion before 2030.

The NCPG reported a 30% increase in gambling addiction from 2018-2021, with 60% of U.S. adults having gambled in the past year, 16% meeting clinical criteria for a gambling disorder, and just under 50% knowing where to seek help. This highlights the urgent need for federal funding and the implementation of measures like the proposed GRIT Act to address gambling addiction.

Issues with Problem Gambling tracking and monitoring 

In 2023, $120 billion was wagered on sports betting, but only $105 million of that revenue was allocated for the treatment and prevention of problem gambling. Although 38 states and the District of Columbia offer legalized sports betting, eight states provide no public funding for gambling prevention. Despite generating an estimated $250 million in excise taxes on gambling, the federal government allocates no funds to gambling addiction prevention.

The GRIT Act (Gambling addiction Recovery, Investment, and Treatment) proposes setting aside 50% of an annual federal sports excise tax revenue for gambling addiction treatment and research. It also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to report to Congress on the program's effectiveness within three years of passage. The NCPG continues to gather support for making the GRIT Act a reality. You can show your support by filling out the quick Support the GRIT Act form

Resources for Gambling Addiction treatment & help

Despite the ongoing severe lack of funding for gambling addiction resources, Birches Health offers accessible, confidential telehealth treatment options. Fighting addiction alone is challenging, but Birches Health provides online care with a team of specially trained professionals. With tailored intake and ongoing care options, Birches Health can help you or someone you know overcome their addiction. 

Sources:

U.S. Sports Betting Statistics April 2024: Legalization, growth & addiction rising

Gambling addiction Recovery, Investment, and Treatment (GRIT) Act

Online Sports Betting - United States

New York Narrowly Misses $2 Billion In Handle for April

Sports betting popularity creates growing concern over problem gambling

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