NCPG’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month continues to illuminate issues

March 11, 2024 11:26 AM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
March 11, 2024 11:26 AM

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, most Americans wager responsibly. But the number of people with issues –mild or severe – is about 9 million.

Story continues below

Unlike alcohol or drug addictions, there are no tell-tale signs – no behaviors or physical evidence that a person may have a gambling disorder.

“There are no physical outward signs in the same way as substance or alcohol use disorders,” says NCPG Director of Communications Cait Huble. “There are no physical conditions. It’s a lot easier to hide gambling addiction.”

The shame and stigma felt by those with gambling disorders can be devastating. Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM), observed throughout March, aims to assist people who are reticent to come forward with problems.

Cait Huble, Director of Communications, NCPG

The theme for this year’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month is “Every Story Matters.”

“We can talk about a data point of 9 million American adults all day long,” Huble says, “and it may not be as effective as saying here’s this story of this human and how they have been able to overcome an addiction and how they’ve been able to serve their community, how they decided to become a clinician and work in the space and the impact they’re making.

“We just want to tell some of those stories that aren’t necessarily just kind of the scary parts of addiction, but also the triumphs of recovery.”

When PGAM began in 2003, the gaming industry rarely acknowledged addiction issues. That hesitancy mirrored the medical establishment’s view; it wasn’t until 2013 that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classified gambling problems as a disorder.

A few years later, the gaming industry began to pay more attention to the issue. According to Brianne Doura-Schawohl, whose firm Brianne Doura-Schawohl Consulting specializes in problem and responsible gambling policy, the establishment of the Entain Foundation in 2019 was an inflection point.

“They committed real dollars to investing in organizations to prevent and mitigate gambling-related harms,” she says. Up until that point, we had seen the industry make contributions to the National Council on Problem Gambling. We saw them commit to trade organization initiatives like Responsible Gaming Education Week, but we had never really seen the creation of a stand-alone entity that said, hey, we need to be committing real dollars, real resources in real time to addressing this issue.

“That’s when, from the industry standpoint, from a policy standing, we really started to see policymakers for the first time in a really long time start to ask hard questions, like what’s this going to mean for addiction, do we have enough infrastructure. States that had traditionally neglected to invest in problem gambling were starting to rethink that.”

Companies such as iProtekt are using artificial intelligence and advanced technology – in its case, a data-driven self-enhancing algorithm – to identify problem gamblers. Co-founder and CEO Bryan Price says there’s a demand for innovation in the space.

However, he admits that gambling disorders can be difficult to identify.

“It’s hard to put a gauge on that because it’s not an addictive type substance,” Price says. “The type of action that it does create and the chemical releases in the brain can be very addictive to some people. It is hard to classify.”

There are ways to measure gambling addiction. Price mentions the Problem Gambling Severity Index, which asks questions such as “Have you bet more than you could really afford to lose?” and “Have you borrowed money or sold anything to gamble?” provide baseline information to help identify gambling issues.

“These are not quantifiable data points,” Price says. “But when you use technology to actually look at transactional history, you can really hone in on the data to see where the individual may be crossing a line.”

There are signs that the gaming industry is more intent on addressing gambling disorders. Doura-Schawohl thinks the industry is aware of concerns voiced by policymakers and organizations combatting gambling disorders. There seems to be recognition that for gaming to be a viable long-term success, gambling problems must be addressed.

“I am hopeful that this issue is finally getting the time and attention it deserves,” Doura-Schawohl says. “Do I agree with everything I see? Of course not, but we all have a real opportunity to build something here and not face the same fate that our friends abroad (the numerous gambling scandals that rocked Europe in the mid-2010s) have had to undergo.

“What I hope happens is that we do not let perfection become the enemy of good and that we don’t feel so proud in our American exceptionalism that we don’t learn from those that have come before us. Because we aren’t different. Yes, we are great, but we are not so great that we won’t face the same problems. Denial only gets you so far.”

Huble says the reaction to PGAM has been encouraging, with more jurisdictions and organizations accessing materials from a free toolkit provided by the NCPG. She’s convinced that people “want to do good work and want to get it right.”

“Just that willingness to engage and invest really is inspiring,” Huble says. “It obviously gives us a very busy month and throughout the year, but the fact that people are explicitly seeking that information is exciting.”