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    Going for broke: Gambling addiction isn't a long shot as sufferers seek help

    By By Kimberly Wynn / The Blade,


    The dice has been thrown, and the odds of developing a gambling addiction in Ohio have increased.

    The rate for problem gambling in Ohio has tripled since 2012, reported Ohio for Responsible Gambling following a recent survey.

    “It has exploded, said Steven Kapela, senior director of outpatient and recovery support services at the Zepf Center in Toledo. “You can almost buy Keno tickets at McDonald's.”

    Mr. Kapela said gambling addiction is rising with the ease of access to all manner of gambling games.

    With the legalization of sports betting in Ohio in 2022, there are more entryways for placing an easy bet. As a result, many are overextending themselves and know they need help. Calls to Ohio's problem gambling helpline have increased by 55 percent. There were 10,637 calls to Ohio's Problem Gambling Helpline in 2023, according to ORG. That number was 6,835 in 2022.

    “While we knew calls would increase and anticipated this due to the increases seen in other states already operating sports betting, such a dramatic increase was surprising and lets us know there is a lot of work still to be done for responsible gambling advocates statewide,” said Michael Buzzelli, associate director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio.

    When a problem gambler is ready for help, it can be a cathartic experience, according to Megan Poliquin, manager of problem gambling treatment at the Zepf Center. The addiction comes with a lot of lies, financial stresses and thoughts of suicide.

    “They are hiding from their family in the bathroom placing bets because there are no barriers,” said Mr. Kapela, pointing to everyone's ubiquitous side arm – a cellphone. “You can take the casino to bed or to class.”

    Chasing losses to regain what has been lost is often a sign there is a problem, according to Cleveland Clinic. Relying on others to fund a bet or replace lost money is another sign for concern.

    In 2023, 112 calls were made to the Ohio Problem Gambling Hotline from Lucas County.

    “Our client population is increasing,” Mr. Kapela said. “If you think you have a problem, you do.”

    Mr. Kapela points to early indoctrination of kids into gambling through video games, which offer loot boxes. Two of the more popular games include Fortnite Battle Royale and Overwatch , according to a survey of 1,003 gamers in 2019.

    Loot boxes are a convergence of the gaming and gambling industries, in which unknown awards, such as a stronger sword or greater healing powers, can be earned or purchased. The gaming activity can be closely aligned to gambling processes, according to recent studies. One, published in the National Library of Medicine, suggests that loot box consumption has risen from 24.9 percent in 2019 to 31.6 percent in 2022 among youth aged 13 to 14.

    “It is priming the pathway,” Ms. Poliquin said.

    Another gaming tradition is skin betting. Players can win skins, such as a brighter color for a weapon, or purchase them. These skins can be placed in a virtual wallet and taken to a different website that offers betting or gambling. The skins can be used as tokens in gambling games, which are not regulated because no “real” money is used.

    It is another way youth learn the intricacies of gambling, according to Mr. Kapela.

    As this generation of children enters college with access to student loans, they have ready money, knowledge and access to sports betting and more.

    Dr. Joshua Grubbs, who was formerly associated with Bowling Green State University and is now an associate professor at the University of New Mexico and an investigator with its Center for Alcohol, Substance Use and Addictions, has been awarded several grants in 2021 and 2022 to study sports betting, with an emphasis on Ohio.

    “There certainly does seem to be some evidence that sports betting is contributing to a rise in gambling addiction,” he said. “It has fundamentally changed how people access gambling.

    “The legalization of sports betting allows for gambling on phones,” said Dr. Grubbs, who added that sports wagering most appeals to young men who work and have some money to spend. ”It is a group dominated by young men who tend to make lots of questionable decisions.”

    At the Zepf Center, addiction counselors can offer help whenever someone has tired of the consequences of too much gambling. Such strategies as better ways of dealing with stress and seeking more positive ways of using spending money may be discussed.

    “You have to handle your money and pay your bills. .... Then take a portion of those funds and buy something else,” said Mr. Kapela, suggesting more positive activities such as learning how to fly a helicopter or buying an RV for travel. “Peace of mind is the greatest benefit. People feel like a great weight has been lifted from them. They don't have to hide.”

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