NCDHHS Addresses Problem Gambling Funding Ahead Of Sports Betting Launch

Gambling is more prevalent in our daily lives than ever before, and that will only increase when North Carolina online sports betting launches later this year.

What about access to resources that can prevent problem gambling and help the 2-3% of the population who are prone to gambling problems? How will problem gambling efforts in North Carolina compare to other states with legal gambling?

North Carolina Public Radio published a recent segment from NPR’s New England Public Media highlighting the nationwide lack of availability and visibility for responsible gambling resources.

“We’re still sitting back and making problem gamblers work hard to find the help that is available,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

The rise of problem gambling is a numbers game

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is in charge of addressing problem gambling in the state, including the resources available for those with or affected by gambling disorders.

North Carolina has an established casino gambling industry dating back to Harrah’s Cherokee’s opening in 1997. Retail sports betting followed in 2021. However, this year’s online sports betting launch will open the floodgates for new bettors, and sheer volume will create the need for increased N.C. responsible gambling resources.

With eight million legal adults in the Tar Heel State, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people will likely experience some problem gambling characteristics. That number doesn’t count family members and loved ones affected by gambling addictions, either.

The math is simple: NCDHHS will soon have an exponentially taller task to tackle N.C. problem gambling than ever before.

Contacting the department about problem gambling

NCSharp contacted NCDHHS about the NPR story. We cited the story’s claims that states with legal gambling did not have enough qualified problem gambling counselors to handle a rise in demand, and we posed a question:

“Does the NCDHHS think this problem will/does exist in North Carolina, and does North Carolina need to do more to employ problem gambling professionals before online sports betting goes live? More broadly, does the NCDHHS think the state is in good shape to handle the addition of online sports betting?”

The department responds with efforts to address problem gambling

Summer Tonizo, press assistant in the NCDHHS office of communications, responded through email, stating, “Problematic gambling occurs on a continuum. It’s important that individuals are offered a range of evidence-based supports and services. While not every gambler meets the clinical criteria for a diagnosis, each can and do experience harm.”

Translation: N.C. problem gambling is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and different problems require different solutions.

A few encouraging aspects include:

– Using evidence-based solutions.

– Finding ways to meet people where they are.

– Additional support for treatment providers and peer support specialists.

However, the statement remains general, suggesting that the department has a lot of work ahead to determine what supports, services, and treatment options it will offer.

N.C. sports betting laws allocate funds for problem gambling support

Tonizo’s response continued, addressing a few numbers:

“Prior to the passage of the sports betting law in North Carolina, the budget for the state’s problem gambling program was $1 million, an amount that has been unchanged since 2008. The new sports betting law appropriated an additional $2 million for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.

“NCDHHS’ problem gambling program has 63 trained clinicians on the provider registry, as well as nine individuals who can provide peer support. We remain committed to expanding both services to individuals experiencing problem gambling and supporting our behavioral health workforce. Doing so ensures that more individuals can access services when and where they need them.”

Translation: The state will now devote $3 million annually to responsible gambling campaigns and problem gambling treatment in North Carolina. For perspective, that’s more than Nevada, and so are its 63 trained clinicians and nine support specialists.

That said, $3 million is not a lot of money when you plan to beef up your resources and need to run marketing campaigns to spread the word.

Problem gambling concerns are real and valid

NPR’s story featured a man named Monroe who played low-limit electronics craps while being interviewed. He used to have a gambling problem that led to chasing losses during marathon sessions.

Now, he practices responsible gambling behaviors. He set a $50 daily limit and told NPR he was happy to walk around the casino with $13 remaining in his budget.

The change came as a result of receiving formal treatment—something only 1% of the estimated seven million Americans with gambling disorders are receiving. It’s a chicken-or-egg scenario: compulsive gamblers do not like to seek help, so many providers do not offer it.

As a result, those with gambling disorders do not know where to find help. Which, in turn, creates a major problem.

As of FY2022, many states allotted less than $1 million to problem gambling efforts. The national average was 38 cents per capita on the state level with no additional federal funding, translating to around $2.2 million per state.

Responsible gambling resources in NC are optimistic, but is it enough?

N.C.’s responsible gambling efforts become even more important when bettors can sit in front of a screen and place wagers around the clock. North Carolina’s allotted $3 million puts it above the national average.

However, many states failed to spend all of their allocated budgets. Some of that was because of COVID restrictions and shutdowns in early 2022, so it won’t be an excuse moving forward.

Only Oregon, Massachusetts, Delaware, and Nebraska allocated more than $1 per person. Massachusetts had the highest absolute allocation, too, at $11 million.

Still, nationwide spending on problem gambling increased by 11% in 2022, totaling $104.3 million.

It’s too early to tell if these numbers are good enough or simply a step in the right direction. Finding solutions will cost a lot of time, effort, money, and other resources. Making those solutions available and socially acceptable to pursue will cost more.

Gambling, by definition, involves risk. We always need to take a proactive approach to N.C. problem gambling because there will always be those in need of treatment. If NCDHHS uses its resources wisely, it can set an example for the rest of the nation.

More success leads to increased funding in future years. It also makes a case to garner federal attention.

This is only the beginning.

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.