The Illinois Department of Public Health recently published its assessment on problem gambling in the state and estimated that 3.8% of adult residents may have behavioral patterns and tendencies that lead to problem gambling.
The study, which was prepared by Human Resources in Action (HRIA) and sponsored by funding from the state’s casino taxes, estimated that 383,000 adults may have a gambling problem. Nearly double that amount — 761,000 adults in Illinois — are potentially at risk for developing a gambling problem. The IDPH conducted its surveys last year, which included lottery, casino gaming, video gaming terminals, and sports wagering as forms of gambling. Sports wagering launched in Illinois in March 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the state has quickly become a top-four market nationally in terms of monthly handle generated.
Dr. Hannah Carliner, who made the presentation of the assessment to the Illinois Gaming Board on Thursday, also highlighted 10 recommendations to help combat problem gaming, which included designating a percentage of gaming tax revenue toward problem gambling, expanding current outreach programs (most notably ones in “sub-populations disproportionately affected”), and a collaborative multi-department effort at the state level to help create standardized screening to help early detection.
Assessment comes before notable casino expansion
The release of the assessment comes at a time when Illinois is moving full speed ahead with its gaming expansion plans that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law in June 2019. That bill legalized sports wagering, and it created six new casino licenses statewide that are at different levels of progression.
Of the six, only one venue is operational, via temporary casino in Rockford by Hard Rock, but two others have broken ground in Williamson County and south suburban Cook County. Additionally, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently shepherded Bally’s through city council as its operator to apply for the downtown license, and Full House Resorts is clearing space for its temporary venue in Waukegan, near the Illinois-Wisconsin border.
Heading into this period of expansion, the study — conducted in 2021, from of 2,029 Illinois residents and 2,503 frequent gamblers — revealed that more than 90% of respondents had gambled at some point in their lives, while just more than 68% gambled in the past year. Nearly 42% reported having gambled at some point in the previous month before taking the survey.
Despite the six new casino licenses, respondents showed a decline in gambling at a casino, arguably exacerbated by the pandemic, as only 15.1% reported having gambled at a casino or riverboat. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they gambled approximately the same amount of time versus before the pandemic.
Conversely, lottery sales per capita for adults aged 18 and over appeared strong at $275 in Fiscal Year 2020, as 52.4% of respondents played at least once, the highest percentage of any gambling discipline. Three of the eight metropolitan areas identified, Chicago, Rockford, and East St. Louis, all had sales per capita of $250 or more.
Approximately 15% of respondents said they wagered on a sporting event over the past year, slightly more than the nearly 14% who played on a video gaming terminal. VGT tax revenues increased more than 10-fold from Fiscal Year 2013 to 2020, as the amount of terminals in operation skyrocketed from nearly 8,000 to more than 36,000 in that span.
Problem gambling study results
The assessment found white Illinoisans were most likely to gamble, compared to other ethnicities, but less likely to have a gambling problem. Hispanic/Latinx Illinoisans were most likely to not gamble at all, but would be at greater risk of developing a gambling problem if they did. Among frequent gamblers, which the study labeled as monthly or more, more than one in four Hispanic/Latinx had a gambling problem, compared to 11.8 % of Black/African American Illinois respondents and 10.4% of white Illinoisans.
The three most common forms of gambling associated with problem gambling were online gambling, racetracks, and the lottery, with all three disciplines at or above 70% among respondents. Among respondents who were frequent gamblers, nearly half of recreational gamblers participated in one or two forms of gambling, but more than half who were considered at risk participated in three to five types. More than 61% of respondents with problem gambling issues participated in six or more wagering types.
The median spend for people with problem gambling was $16,750, while nearly one in three reported debt between $10,000 and $50,000. Slightly more than one in five reported debt ranging from $50,000 to $100,000.
The assessment also noted a high correlation between substance use and problem gambling. More than four in five frequent gamblers with a gambling problem reported using alcohol while gambling, compared to slightly less than half of recreational gamblers. Approximately four in nine frequent gamblers with a gambling problem reported using marijuana while wagering, versus barely more than 10% of recreational gamblers. Lastly, more than 30% of frequent gamblers with a gambling problem reported using illicit drugs or prescription drugs not as prescribed, versus 3% of recreational gamblers.
Expanding treatment and prevention sought
The assessment noted the state does have the Illinois Problem Gambling Helpline, in the form of both a telephone and web resources, with specialists available, as well as educational and awareness campaigns — most notably Problem Gambling Awareness month in March.
But it also pointed out the 45 substance use disorder (SUD) locations that provide for gambling problem services are not evenly spread throughout the state. Additionally, there are as many as 1,020 additional SUD locations that would be eligible to offer gambling problem services, something that could prove beneficial, considering the number of gambling treatment-related services more than doubled, from 7,000 in 2018 to 16,450 in 2020.
While more than three in four problem gamblers sought some form of treatment, nearly half of the respondents who were problem gamblers also reported they thought they could fix the problem themselves or were too embarrassed to ask for help. One respondent also noted a lack of treatment services, stating, “There’s a lot of messaging about where to go gamble, but nothing on where to get treated.”
To that end, the second recommendation listed was to “support the development of a statewide collaborative organization to lead state stakeholders in convening, coordinating, and developing comprehensive programs and policies for those affected by problem gambling, which would include increasing public awareness about problem gambling and advocating for supportive services and treatment.”
In terms of treatment and recovery recommendations, the IDPH recommended expanding the number of treatment providers for problem gambling and “ensure that behavioral health providers and primary care providers are trained in screening for individuals with problem gambling.”