A boom in legal online sports betting is fueling a rise in gambling addiction on Long Island, particularly among young men, experts say. NewsdayTV's Jamie Stuart reports.

A boom in legal online sports betting as well as slot machines and lotteries is fueling a rise in gambling addiction on Long Island, experts said.

Starting last year, anyone 21 and older in New York could legally place sports bets on their phones at any time and anywhere in the state. As New York has turned into one of the nation's top online sports gambling locations, with $16.2 billion wagered last year, gambling treatment centers are struggling to keep up with demand. The problem is particularly pronounced among young males, experts said.

“Every college student now has a casino in their back pocket,” since they can gamble online with their phones, said Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of the Family & Children’s Association in Garden City. That can lead to serious problems, he added.

He's seen young men betting online max out their credit cards, and then resort to loan sharks to keep gambling. 

“I’ve spoken to parents who have had loan sharks come to their homes looking for their kids in order to pay off debt and making pretty significant threats,” said Reynolds.

Once confined to Atlantic City and Las Vegas, and then American Indian casinos, most legal gambling was introduced relatively recently on Long Island. Slot machines arrived in 2017 when Jake's 58 Casino Hotel opened off the Long Island Expressway in Islandia. Gamblers have lost more than $1 billion since, with 45% of that money going to state education.

The doors to sports betting opened nationwide in 2018 with a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing states to legalize it. About three dozen have, with New York joining the list in January 2022. The state broke national records in its inaugural year of online sports betting in 2022, earning $693 million in tax revenue on the $16.2 billion wagered.

Now, New York and Long Island are poised for even more gambling as the state decides where to approve licenses for three full-fledged casinos in the New York City area. There's a widely held view that Resorts World at Aqueduct Raceway in Queens and Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway are expected to get one. Las Vegas Sands has proposed one at the Nassau Coliseum site. Jake's 58 will double its number of slot machines to 2,000 over the next two years.

With gambling opportunities mushrooming, the number of people statewide who received treatment for gambling addiction through the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Support (OASAS) and private therapists in its network jumped by 20% in the last four years, the agency said. From 2019 to 2022, it went from 3,174 to 3,820.

Nonprofit groups said they are seeing evidence of a similar rise, or worse.

The advent of online sports betting last year triggered a 41% increase in people calling the Long Island Problem Gambling Resource Center for help compared to 2021, growing from 171 to 242, according to OASAS officials and Pam Brenner-Davis, head of the local group.

Her state-funded agency helps connect problem gamblers with services such as therapists and Gamblers Anonymous groups, and provides public education about the issue.

Government and private gambling companies acknowledge gambling addiction is a problem, but contend it is a small percentage of those who go to casinos or bet online. And they say they are trying to minimize the numbers and help those who need it.

“We always support responsible gaming and, for those who believe that gambling may be becoming an issue for them, we partner with dedicated organizations such as the Problem Gambling Resource Center to let these players know where they can obtain assistance and resources,” said Phil Boyle, president and CEO of Suffolk OTB, which oversees Jake's 58 casino. 

Jake's 58 turned over $113,673,755 to the state education fund in 2022, the casino said, and a half-billion dollars — $512,247,387 — since it opened in February 2017.

Maria-Christina Annaloro, director of government relations and responsible gambling for Las Vegas Sands, said experts estimate 1% of the U.S. population are problem gamblers. Sands has various programs to try to reduce that number, she said, such as "ambassadors" who roam casino floors watching for gamblers developing an addiction, and then connecting them with services to get help.

“Our goal is to have zero percent of problem gambling on our gaming floors,” Annaloro said. “The majority of people can go to a gaming floor, can have a great time, can enjoy what we have offer, can go to restaurants and shops and gamble and have fun. There is that percentage that cannot.”

Two years ago, Reynolds’ group, the Family & Children’s Association, treated about 25 problem gamblers on a regular basis, he said. Now, it's 35 — all the capacity they have.

“There is this whole underground of sports betting on Long Island that most people don’t know about,” he said.

Therapists said the costs of problem gambling can be devastating: fractured families, failed careers, insurmountable debt, homelessness, depression and even suicide.

“It destroys their life,” said Dr. Marc Shulman, a clinical psychologist based in Nassau County who is also seeing a significant uptick in people calling for help. 

Christine Hunter, a licensed clinical social worker based in Glen Head, said she has treated one gambling addict in 15 years of practice. Last year, she handled a dozen through referrals from the Long Island Problem Gambling Resource Center.

Ranging from the very rich to working class, many of her patients inadvertently fell into gambling addiction, she said.

“They’re usually mostly responsible people who say, ‘What happened? Where did all that money go? I’ve lost six figures in the last year. How could that happen?’ ” she said.

“Almost everybody that I see is shocked when they are told that it’s an addiction,” she added. “They just think that they have a gambling problem.”

State officials said they are watching closely for an increase in problem gambling, and taking action.

OASAS, which provides therapy and other services for problem gamblers, said in a statement that it "continues to monitor gambling trends, and work on expanding and enhancing services for problem gambling throughout the state."

Gov. Kathy Hochul said last month that the state is trying to balance the benefits of gambling revenues with the downside of people developing gambling addictions.

"We can continue dedicating funding to help the problem gamblers, absolutely," she told NY1. But if a casino or two open in the city, "This is also an enticement for conventions to come here and tourists. And you know, to casual gamblers, it just makes it part of their experience of visiting New York City."

Under state law, OASAS will get $6 million each fiscal year from mobile sports gambling revenue.

The agency said it will use the money partly to increase public awareness about how to prevent underage gambling, the signs of problem gambling, and where to find treatment.

Experts on problem gambling said far more help is needed.

Nationwide, an estimated 6 million people, or about 2% of the adult population, have a gambling addiction, said Keith Whyte, president of the National Council on Problem Gambling based in Washington, D.C.

Even though the legal age for gambling ranges from 18 to 21, about three-quarters of college students gambled in the past year, with 6% addicted, his group states, citing published research.

Experts said the rise in problem gambling is not surprising, since betting opportunities are more abundant. Besides online sports betting and the Islandia casino, Resorts World Casino in Queens opened in 2011.

Even lotteries have reached astronomical heights for bettors: A recent Mega Millions jackpot, a multistate lottery, hit $1.35 billion.

It all has led to a culture where gambling has become normalized and “a lot more acceptable,” Reynolds said.

Online sports betting has allowed people to wager not just on game outcomes but on individual plays within games.

People can bet on the coin toss at the start of games or the color of the Gatorade dumped on winning coaches’ heads after events such as the Super Bowl.

“There are literally hundreds of opportunities to bet on things within one game,” said Brenner-Davis. “It’s just a constant ability to get the rush, to move money around, to place bets."

“It deters from the love of the game, because you’re not just watching and rooting for your team,” she added. “You become fixated on your phone and your device, betting one bet after the other.”

Brenner-Davis' group is the regional chapter of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, which is funded by the state OASAS. The group runs a hotline: 516-226-8342.

Many cases of gambling addiction don’t get officially recorded, Whyte said, and there is not much in-depth data on the problem for New York and other states, which makes it harder to address. That, he believes, is intentional.

Gambling is “so lucrative for the government” that they don’t “necessarily want to know how many people have problems,” he said. “Far too many people are interested only in the benefits; they’re not interested in the costs.”

Reynolds noted that, while problem gambling is on the rise, most people can gamble without it becoming addictive.

“Lots of folks felt like the world was going to stop spinning on its axis if they opened Jake's 58,” he said. “Well, some of our worst fears haven’t come true.”

Still, heavy advertising is luring more people into gambling, especially sports betting, Brenner-Davis said.

“You can hardly turn on the news, the radio, without seeing ads for it” that are “captivating” and “alluring,” she said.

And instead of having to drive to Atlantic City or Connecticut to visit a casino, they can simply pull out their phones. Partly for that reason, experts call problem gambling of all types “the hidden addiction.”

“Because it’s something they are doing on their device, nobody else around them is necessarily aware of it,” Brenner-Davis said. With alcoholism or drug abuse, “The people around you become aware of it because you wear signs of it on your face and on your body. Eventually, your body gives out.”

But “you can gamble every dollar that you have in your bank account and then some, and you maintain a smile on your face,” she said. “People around you have no idea.”

Counseling agencies and private therapists want state governments to devote more money to preventing gambling addiction or treating it. “This should be the most well-funded disorder in America, because it generates so much legal revenue for state governments,” Whyte said.

The approach could mirror programs against alcohol and drug abuse, starting with public education programs focused on kids, he said. He called it “a public health issue.”

OASAS said it is monitoring gambling trends and trying to increase help for problem gamblers. It funds groups such as Brenner-Davis’ throughout the state, along with 12 addiction treatment centers, including one on Long Island, in Brentwood.

Even with that help, Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, believes the entire notion of gambling is misguided.

“There have to be much more life-giving ways than sitting at a card table or a gaming table or at those ‘one-armed bandits’ as they are called — slot machines — mindlessly throwing your money away with the hope of some kind of big windfall,” he said.

“I think this is a deterioration of our societal norms,” he added.

A boom in legal online sports betting as well as slot machines and lotteries is fueling a rise in gambling addiction on Long Island, experts said.

Starting last year, anyone 21 and older in New York could legally place sports bets on their phones at any time and anywhere in the state. As New York has turned into one of the nation's top online sports gambling locations, with $16.2 billion wagered last year, gambling treatment centers are struggling to keep up with demand. The problem is particularly pronounced among young males, experts said.

“Every college student now has a casino in their back pocket,” since they can gamble online with their phones, said Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of the Family & Children’s Association in Garden City. That can lead to serious problems, he added.

He's seen young men betting online max out their credit cards, and then resort to loan sharks to keep gambling. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Problem gambling is increasing on Long Island, especially with the advent of legalized online sports betting last year, experts say.
  • Young men who can now place bets on their smart phones are especially getting into trouble and racking up debts, they said.
  • Gambling industry officials acknowledge there is a problem but say it is a minority of gamblers, and they are taking steps to keep the numbers of gambling addicts down.

“I’ve spoken to parents who have had loan sharks come to their homes looking for their kids in order to pay off debt and making pretty significant threats,” said Reynolds.

Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of the Family & Children’s...

Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of the Family & Children’s Association, says his group is at capacity for people it can treat for gambling addiction. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Once confined to Atlantic City and Las Vegas, and then American Indian casinos, most legal gambling was introduced relatively recently on Long Island. Slot machines arrived in 2017 when Jake's 58 Casino Hotel opened off the Long Island Expressway in Islandia. Gamblers have lost more than $1 billion since, with 45% of that money going to state education.

The doors to sports betting opened nationwide in 2018 with a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing states to legalize it. About three dozen have, with New York joining the list in January 2022. The state broke national records in its inaugural year of online sports betting in 2022, earning $693 million in tax revenue on the $16.2 billion wagered.

$16.2 billion was wagered last year in NY online sports books

Now, New York and Long Island are poised for even more gambling as the state decides where to approve licenses for three full-fledged casinos in the New York City area. There's a widely held view that Resorts World at Aqueduct Raceway in Queens and Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway are expected to get one. Las Vegas Sands has proposed one at the Nassau Coliseum site. Jake's 58 will double its number of slot machines to 2,000 over the next two years.

With gambling opportunities mushrooming, the number of people statewide who received treatment for gambling addiction through the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Support (OASAS) and private therapists in its network jumped by 20% in the last four years, the agency said. From 2019 to 2022, it went from 3,174 to 3,820.

Nonprofit groups said they are seeing evidence of a similar rise, or worse.

The advent of online sports betting last year triggered a 41% increase in people calling the Long Island Problem Gambling Resource Center for help compared to 2021, growing from 171 to 242, according to OASAS officials and Pam Brenner-Davis, head of the local group.

Her state-funded agency helps connect problem gamblers with services such as therapists and Gamblers Anonymous groups, and provides public education about the issue.

Government and private gambling companies acknowledge gambling addiction is a problem, but contend it is a small percentage of those who go to casinos or bet online. And they say they are trying to minimize the numbers and help those who need it.

“We always support responsible gaming and, for those who believe that gambling may be becoming an issue for them, we partner with dedicated organizations such as the Problem Gambling Resource Center to let these players know where they can obtain assistance and resources,” said Phil Boyle, president and CEO of Suffolk OTB, which oversees Jake's 58 casino. 

Jake's 58 turned over $113,673,755 to the state education fund in 2022, the casino said, and a half-billion dollars — $512,247,387 — since it opened in February 2017.

Maria-Christina Annaloro, director of government relations and responsible gambling for Las Vegas Sands, said experts estimate 1% of the U.S. population are problem gamblers. Sands has various programs to try to reduce that number, she said, such as "ambassadors" who roam casino floors watching for gamblers developing an addiction, and then connecting them with services to get help.

“Our goal is to have zero percent of problem gambling on our gaming floors,” Annaloro said. “The majority of people can go to a gaming floor, can have a great time, can enjoy what we have offer, can go to restaurants and shops and gamble and have fun. There is that percentage that cannot.”

Two years ago, Reynolds’ group, the Family & Children’s Association, treated about 25 problem gamblers on a regular basis, he said. Now, it's 35 — all the capacity they have.

“There is this whole underground of sports betting on Long Island that most people don’t know about,” he said.

Gambling 'destroys their life'

Therapists said the costs of problem gambling can be devastating: fractured families, failed careers, insurmountable debt, homelessness, depression and even suicide.

“It destroys their life,” said Dr. Marc Shulman, a clinical psychologist based in Nassau County who is also seeing a significant uptick in people calling for help. 

Christine Hunter, a licensed clinical social worker based in Glen Head, said she has treated one gambling addict in 15 years of practice. Last year, she handled a dozen through referrals from the Long Island Problem Gambling Resource Center.

Ranging from the very rich to working class, many of her patients inadvertently fell into gambling addiction, she said.

“They’re usually mostly responsible people who say, ‘What happened? Where did all that money go? I’ve lost six figures in the last year. How could that happen?’ ” she said.

recommended reading'Even more addictive now': Malverne man's gambling problem made worse by legalized sports betting

“Almost everybody that I see is shocked when they are told that it’s an addiction,” she added. “They just think that they have a gambling problem.”

State officials said they are watching closely for an increase in problem gambling, and taking action.

OASAS, which provides therapy and other services for problem gamblers, said in a statement that it "continues to monitor gambling trends, and work on expanding and enhancing services for problem gambling throughout the state."

Gov. Kathy Hochul said last month that the state is trying to balance the benefits of gambling revenues with the downside of people developing gambling addictions.

"We can continue dedicating funding to help the problem gamblers, absolutely," she told NY1. But if a casino or two open in the city, "This is also an enticement for conventions to come here and tourists. And you know, to casual gamblers, it just makes it part of their experience of visiting New York City."

$6 million to treat gambling addiction

Under state law, OASAS will get $6 million each fiscal year from mobile sports gambling revenue.

The agency said it will use the money partly to increase public awareness about how to prevent underage gambling, the signs of problem gambling, and where to find treatment.

Experts on problem gambling said far more help is needed.

Nationwide, an estimated 6 million people, or about 2% of the adult population, have a gambling addiction, said Keith Whyte, president of the National Council on Problem Gambling based in Washington, D.C.

Even though the legal age for gambling ranges from 18 to 21, about three-quarters of college students gambled in the past year, with 6% addicted, his group states, citing published research.

Experts said the rise in problem gambling is not surprising, since betting opportunities are more abundant. Besides online sports betting and the Islandia casino, Resorts World Casino in Queens opened in 2011.

Even lotteries have reached astronomical heights for bettors: A recent Mega Millions jackpot, a multistate lottery, hit $1.35 billion.

It all has led to a culture where gambling has become normalized and “a lot more acceptable,” Reynolds said.

Online sports betting

Online sports betting has allowed people to wager not just on game outcomes but on individual plays within games.

People can bet on the coin toss at the start of games or the color of the Gatorade dumped on winning coaches’ heads after events such as the Super Bowl.

“There are literally hundreds of opportunities to bet on things within one game,” said Brenner-Davis. “It’s just a constant ability to get the rush, to move money around, to place bets."

“It deters from the love of the game, because you’re not just watching and rooting for your team,” she added. “You become fixated on your phone and your device, betting one bet after the other.”

Brenner-Davis' group is the regional chapter of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, which is funded by the state OASAS. The group runs a hotline: 516-226-8342.

Gambling addiction data lacking

Many cases of gambling addiction don’t get officially recorded, Whyte said, and there is not much in-depth data on the problem for New York and other states, which makes it harder to address. That, he believes, is intentional.

Gambling is “so lucrative for the government” that they don’t “necessarily want to know how many people have problems,” he said. “Far too many people are interested only in the benefits; they’re not interested in the costs.”

Reynolds noted that, while problem gambling is on the rise, most people can gamble without it becoming addictive.

“Lots of folks felt like the world was going to stop spinning on its axis if they opened Jake's 58,” he said. “Well, some of our worst fears haven’t come true.”

Still, heavy advertising is luring more people into gambling, especially sports betting, Brenner-Davis said.

“You can hardly turn on the news, the radio, without seeing ads for it” that are “captivating” and “alluring,” she said.

And instead of having to drive to Atlantic City or Connecticut to visit a casino, they can simply pull out their phones. Partly for that reason, experts call problem gambling of all types “the hidden addiction.”

“Because it’s something they are doing on their device, nobody else around them is necessarily aware of it,” Brenner-Davis said. With alcoholism or drug abuse, “The people around you become aware of it because you wear signs of it on your face and on your body. Eventually, your body gives out.”

But “you can gamble every dollar that you have in your bank account and then some, and you maintain a smile on your face,” she said. “People around you have no idea.”

Counselors say more help needed

Counseling agencies and private therapists want state governments to devote more money to preventing gambling addiction or treating it. “This should be the most well-funded disorder in America, because it generates so much legal revenue for state governments,” Whyte said.

The approach could mirror programs against alcohol and drug abuse, starting with public education programs focused on kids, he said. He called it “a public health issue.”

OASAS said it is monitoring gambling trends and trying to increase help for problem gamblers. It funds groups such as Brenner-Davis’ throughout the state, along with 12 addiction treatment centers, including one on Long Island, in Brentwood.

Even with that help, Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, believes the entire notion of gambling is misguided.

“There have to be much more life-giving ways than sitting at a card table or a gaming table or at those ‘one-armed bandits’ as they are called — slot machines — mindlessly throwing your money away with the hope of some kind of big windfall,” he said.

“I think this is a deterioration of our societal norms,” he added.

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