NC Regulators And Operators Should Normalize Mental Health Concerns Around Problem Gambling

The Tar Heel State has a unique opportunity to set an example regarding mental health and responsible gambling.

Responsible gambling in North Carolina will become a hot topic, with online sports betting set to go live next year.  Problem gambling affects at least 6 million people nationwide, or around 3% of the population. It could affect over 300,000 North Carolinians based on its eight-figure population.

We have barely scratched the surface of addressing problem gambling as a society. This includes our legislators, which allow the issue to remain in the dark. After all, they can’t allocate funds or write laws about issues they didn’t know were issues in the first place.

However, that’s precisely the reason to bring NC problem gambling to light and discuss how it can make a positive difference in the state. The easiest way to deal with the elephant in the room is to acknowledge its presence.

Addressing the stigma

The stigma around problem gambling can dissuade some people from taking an active approach toward treating their problems. They fear the perceived social backlash from being labeled as having a gambling disorder.

That stigma can play a role in crafting legislation, too. Unaware of the greater picture, lawmakers could fear that highlighting NC problem gambling will also shine a spotlight on addiction. That’s not a picture politicians like to paint.

As a result, problem gambling research is underfunded. Those with at-risk tendencies do not have access to information that could empower them to gamble responsibly or abstain altogether.

Furthermore, those with a gambling disorder brave enough to seek help may not always be able to receive it in a timely, effective or sufficient manner. So, let’s explore what lawmakers can do to ensure NC responsible gambling gets the attention it deserves.

Using scientific advancements to combat problem gambling

Technology and science have enabled us to understand mental health issues on a grander scale than ever before. With that, we’ve found ways to identify symptoms and provide better treatments.

We’ve also become more tolerant toward people with mental health issues, and the stigma around mental health has decreased.

Those same practices must be applied to normalizing problem gambling in North Carolina, including identifying correlations between susceptible populations to devote resources properly.

Legislators can easily reference scientific studies around mental health, as well as problem gambling statistics from already-mature markets.

Other states have implemented RG standards to varying degrees – and to varying success rates. Lawmakers do not have to reinvent the wheel in developing NC responsible gambling legislature.

However, they must explore all angles when writing laws. Any holes in a law’s figurative ship require a lengthy legislative process to amend, costing time and money at the expense of people’s well-being. The wider the net they cast, the better off everyone is from day one.

Regulators and universities can lead the way

Normalizing NC problem gambling is a multi-pronged effort. The NC Lottery Commission must lead the charge in using experts’ studies to create a regulatory landscape that promotes responsible gambling in North Carolina and dedicates ample resources toward the continued research, diagnosis and treatment of problem gambling.

Education and access to information are other vital components. The more information prospective bettors have, the better-armed they are to gamble responsibly.

And it’s about more than just bettors. Student-athletes have experienced harassment from bettors unhappy with game outcomes, which East Carolina University’s Dr. Michelle Malkin called “a different type of heckler” than what athletes have experienced from opposing teams’ fans.

According to Malkin, these behaviors tie back to the connection between mental health and problem gambling.

Malkin added that young people are less prepared to handle the harassment and suggested several solutions on the state and federal levels. For example, states could provide integrity officers who communicate directly with the NCAA to protect student-athletes.

Colleges and universities must bear some of the responsibility, too. Recent betting scandals have occurred in Iowa and Alabama, which Malkin directly attributed to a lack of regulatory oversight.

The NCAA opposes sports betting on most grounds, saying it undermines the integrity of competition. Its schools need to start creating sports betting education classes and offering course credits for them. Those classes should be mandatory for all students, and student-athletes should need to take them every year.

Operators should prioritize RG for industry sustainability

The National Council on Problem Gambling reported in January 2022 that most online gambling states do not meet its RG standards. These standards provide a road map for responsible gambling efforts in North Carolina, focusing on a wide range of areas, such as:

– Research.

– Staff training.

– Supporting informed decision-making by players.

– Assisting players.

– Self-exclusion.

As gambling expands nationwide, these standards become even more imperative to address. States are paying attention, and North Carolina needs to do the same.

Lawmakers in New Jersey and Michigan have begun introducing bills requiring RG education for students. NC responsible gambling regulations can include these stipulations from the start.

For that growth to continue in active and prospective markets, legislators and operators alike must make responsible gambling their top priority.

Without prioritizing RG, states and operators risk creating unsustainable conditions for the future. Nobody wants to lose more than they intended or feel taken advantage of when gambling.

Furthermore, a strong RG stance sets the stage for future expansion. If sports betting goes well, it can be a stepping stone for even more lucrative online casino gaming.

However, the opposite rings just as true. A weak RG stance would create an unsustainable climate and serve as the perfect defense against future gambling expansion in the state.

About the Author

Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting in North Carolina, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing.