EDITORIAL: Legal gambling has its costs

Published 4:29 pm Thursday, April 6, 2023

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We editorialized in this space for legalization of casino gambling and sports betting in Virginia, and both are off and running, including the opening of a casino in nearby Portsmouth and another on the way in Norfolk.

We cautioned at the time that there would be downsides, and this is a good time to again acknowledge them.

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and, not surprisingly with betting much simpler and accessible than it used to be, the problem has worsened in recent years. Calls to the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling’s helpline increased 56.7% from 2021 to 2022.

Nearly two-thirds of the callers were men, with 23.4% in the 25-35 age range, when gambling addiction is especially harmful to young families.

Problem Gambling Awareness Month is intentionally observed during the NCAA Basketball Tournament, dubbed March Madness, when Americans are projected to wager over $3 billion. For the majority of adults, gambling is harmless entertainment, if not a bit foolish, given the tall odds in favor of casinos and sportsbooks. America has consistently failed at legislating morality and good sense, so we lean strongly toward a free market where adults make, and live with, their choices. We still believe that Virginia made the right choice in legalizing gambling and capturing important tax revenue on activity that previously was happening, just illegally.

But awareness of its societal costs is important. According to the National Survey on Gambling Attitudes and Gambling Experiences 2.0, 4 out of 5 sports bettors reported often needing to gamble more and more over time to achieve the same feeling of excitement. 

In other words, folks don’t stop when they get ahead.

“As our state’s legislature continues to make multiple new forms of gambling legal and easier than ever to access, it’s important for Virginians to be aware of the signs of problem gambling, whether it’s for themselves or someone they know,” said Dr. Carolyn Hawley, president of VCPG.

She touted the Virginia Problem Gambling Helpline, a free service that refers callers to “peer recovery specialists” who are experienced in gambling and/or substance use. These specialists can answer questions, provide support and direct callers to resources in their geographic area.

The helpline, 1-888-532-3500, is open to text messages and voice calls 24-7 all 365 days of the year for anyone with questions about a gambling problem for themselves, a friend or a loved one. Those who prefer online chat can visit vcpg.net. All callers who allow follow-up calls receive regular contacts via phone, text and email after 48 hours, one week, one month and six months.

We commend VCPG for this important public service.