The number of Ohioans treated for gambling addiction is on the rise but state officials say casino legalization is not the sole cause.
People treated or diagnosed for a gambling disorder in Ohio has increased by more than 11 percent since 2014, according to state reports. There were 924 people treated for a gambling addiction in 2014 and 1,028 treated in 2016.
The increase is almost certainly related to the spread of casino gambling in Ohio since the state’s first casino opened in 2012, state officials said. But, the bump is also likely caused by a wider availability of treatment.
“We went from 0 to 11 facilities,” said Jessica Franks, communications director for Ohio’s Casino Control Commission. “There’s also just a better understanding of what doctors diagnose as problem gambling.”
The Miami Valley has had its share of high profile stories of gambling addiction. A former Tecumseh superintendent was convicted last year for stealing $40,000 to feed his gambling addiction while a West Carrollton bank manager was sent to prison for embezzling $5.2 million to gamble.
Since Ohio’s first casinos opened nearly five years ago, mental health agencies have gotten better at identifying gambling disorders, state official said.
With treatment options expanding over the last five years, the number of people screened for a gambling disorder has also increased by more than 18,000 per year. In 2014, close to 26,000 Ohioans were screened for gambling addiction and by 2016 that number had jumped to 44,236, according to an annual state report on problem gambling.
“We’ve had to learn what works, what doesn’t and go from there,” said Amanda Blackford, problem gambling specialist with the control commission
While the number of people treated every year has increased, the number of calls to Ohio’s gambling problem hotline have declined by nearly 4,000.
But, helpline numbers show that Ohioans living in metropolitan areas are more at risk for a gambling addiction. Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is the county seat, had 1,487, helpline calls, the most of any county in the state.
Franklin County was second with 517, Hamilton County was third with 410, Montgomery County was fourth with 230 and Lucas County was fifth with 204, according to the state. Around 60 percent of those who dial up the helpline call because gambling has caused them financial problems while another 25 percent call because their addiction has resulted in family problems.
Data suggests that the closer someone lives to a casino, the higher their addiction risk, said Scott Anderson, problem gambling coordinator for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“Individuals living within a 50-mile radius tend to have slightly higher problem gambling prevalence rates,” Anderson said.
Miami Valley residents are uniquely situated near several casinos and racinos, officials said. Dayton has its own racino, but ones in Monroe, Cincinnati and Columbus are just about an hour away as well.
Casinos and racinos are part of the fight against gambling disorders themselves though. Miami Valley Gaming in Lebanon, offers problem gambling brochures and requires employees to take classes on how to spot addiction, said general manager Domenic Mancini
“Miami Valley Gaming takes problem gambling very seriously,” Mancini said in a prepared statement.
A recent report from personal-finance website WalletHub ranked Ohio as the 10th most gambling addicted state in the country.
State officials said they believe the WalletHub report contained outdated data and that an upcoming state survey will offer a clearer picture of gambling addiction in Ohio. The state results will be released later this summer or fall, said Stacey Frohnapfel-Hasson, an administrator for problem gambling services at the state’s mental health agency.
Just before casino gambling was legalized, the state conducted its first problem gambling survey to establish a baseline for addiction. That survey found that .4 percent of Ohioans had a gambling addiction but officials expect they’ll see a slight increase.
“The average state is at 1 to 2 percent,” Anderson said. “From what we’re seeing, we’ll have a higher percentage than before.”
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