The advent of legal online sports betting in North Carolina will be the most significant expansion of regulated online gambling in the state’s history. As businesses in North Carolina prepare to take advantage of this opportunity, they aren’t alone in making preparations.
Gaming regulators have also been busy expanding their duties. Furthermore, those who work to address problem gambling in the state are also cognizant of the forthcoming changes.
In North Carolina, one government organization acts as the standard-bearer for preventing and treating problem gambling: The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). That agency works to equip North Carolinians with the resources they need to safely participate in legal online sports betting.
Assessing North Carolina’s problem gambling needs
It’s difficult to know for sure how many North Carolinians struggle with a gambling-related behavioral issue at any given time. Available research on the topic depends heavily on people not only accurately assessing themselves in this regard but also being willing to share the results of that assessment.
Furthermore, polling the entire adult population of a state like North Carolina on any issue is a mammoth task. However, there are some estimates.
The 2021 Survey of Publicly Funded Problem Gambling Services in the United States said “an estimated 2.2% of North Carolina adults (181,493) are believed to manifest a gambling problem in North Carolina.”
Dr. Michele Malkin at East Carolina University has also found that roughly 5% of all North Carolinians suffer from some form of gambling addiction.
The other crucial component of this situation is the existing infrastructure for addressing the situation. North Carolina has made some provisions for addressing problematic gambling for nearly 20 years.
Existing services for North Carolinians struggling with gambling problems
In 2005, North Carolina enacted a law allocating proceeds from the state’s lottery to the NCDHHS specifically to address problem gambling in the state. The original earmark amounted to $1 million annually.
According to Hannah Jones of the NCDHHS, that has been the annual budget for the department’s services since 2005. HHS administers the North Carolina Problem Gambling Program (NCPGP) out of those funds.
Jones said the NCPGP has five major components:
– A helpline.
– Educational materials.
– Prevention initiatives.
– Recovery resources.
– Treatment services.
Jones stated that the NCPGP currently has a staff of 120 people who have received training in gambling disorders and can answer calls to the helpline on a 24/7 basis. Those people receive continuing education from HHS on an annual basis.
Jones shared that this year, for example, the training agenda for helpline workers will consist of a series of webinars offered in conjunction with the University of North Carolina’s Health Springboard.
Furthermore, the NCDHHS provides training for clinicians who treat people experiencing problems related to gambling with Sure Bet training that focuses specifically on sports betting.
As far as ascertaining how many clinicians in North Carolina have qualifications to treat such issues, it is also difficult to determine an exact number. Professionals do not always list such certifications among their qualifications. Moreover, state agencies governing such services do not keep records of licensees’ certifications to that extent.
On a broader scale, private and public mental health services are widely available in North Carolina. In that regard, North Carolinians may have more access to treatment resources than residents of other states with legal sportsbooks.
NC might be better prepared for legal sports betting than other states
According to the 2021 Survey of Publicly Funded Problem Gambling Services in the United States, one state registry counted 74 approved problem gambling counselors available to provide counseling services at no cost to North Carolina residents. As previously mentioned, that is likely not comprehensive of the entire array of such services available in the state. That especially applies to services that may not be free of charge.
If that number is somewhat accurate, North Carolina might be more prepared for the expansion of regulated online gambling than other states were. For example, Sam Knef of Spectrum News 1 reported in October that only five certified gambling counselors were available in the entire commonwealth of Kentucky when it launched its legal sports betting industry.
However, North Carolina is not necessarily the gold standard regarding this particular statistic. The 2021 Survey of Publicly Funded Problem Gambling Services in the United States showed that Maryland had 120 providers on a similar registry, for instance.
Additionally, North Carolina’s spending on resources for addressing problem gambling has been lax in comparison to other US jurisdictions.
North Carolina’s budget for problem gambling resources
While the NCDHHS has so far been able to offer problem gambling services with the funds allocated to it in 2005, that budget may not have kept up with the state’s development of gaming. The 2021 Survey of Publicly Funded Problem Gambling Services in the United States showed that North Carolina ranked 28th in the country regarding per capita public funds invested in problem gambling services at nine cents.
The national average then was nearly five times that amount at 40 cents. For reference, Ohio spent 53 cents per capita at that time.
Whether North Carolina’s spending on problem gambling resources will be sufficient when legal online sports betting is available is unclear right now. Jones said that the NCDHHS is “exploring expanding our program and our contracted staff” before regulated online sportsbooks launch.
That’s a valid consideration for the department because the law providing for legal online sports betting doubles the allocation for the NCDHHS in this regard to $2 million. Exactly how the NCDHHS will utilize those funds is unclear right now. They have made clear their priorities in dealing with this expansion, though.
NCDHHS focuses on education and prevention
Jones’ comments on the NCDHHS’ approach to the forthcoming expansion of legal online sports betting in North Carolina invoke the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
At this time, the NCDHHS offers grants to organizations and schools in the state to facilitate a program called Stacked Deck. Stacked Deck is a responsible gambling education program that features heavy interaction.
The new funding could support even more program implementation around North Carolina. At the same time, much of prevention falls upon regulators’ and sportsbook operators’ practices.
“We take a public health approach and look to prevent, treat, and help those who wish to stop gambling if they feel it causing them harm,” Jones explained. “From an up-stream prevention perspective, ideally, there would be stringent efforts to ensure youth were not able to access gambling and vulnerable populations are not targeted with advertisements. For those who may be showing signs of at-risk behaviors, we would ideally like to see resources for limit setting. For those who experience harm and are unable to manage their gambling, we need self-exclusion programs and treatment/recovery resources.”
Proposed regulations for legal sports betting in North Carolina have addressed all the priorities Jones listed. The rules require sportsbook operators to offer customizable limits, ban advertisements targeting young people, and create voluntary self-exclusion programs.
Like with treatment for any other mental health issue, the most any state government can do is provide resources and make residents aware of them. North Carolina could be well positioned to perform those functions amid a significant expansion of gambling opportunities.
The success of responsible gambling resources in North Carolina ultimately lies with people who could benefit by availing themselves of the programs.