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Study: Half of sports bets in CT are made by problem gamblers


Study: Half of sports bets in CT are made by problem gamblers

Feb 13, 2024 | 5:00 am ET
By Mark Pazniokas


As America placed bets on the Super Bowl, Connecticut quietly released research that concluded problem gamblers are responsible for half of all sports betting in the state yet account for not quite 2% of residents.

The first gambling impact study since Connecticut legalized sports betting and online casino gaming in 2021 found that two-thirds of residents gamble, though only 10% bet on sports or play online games. 

Legalization apparently has had a relatively modest impact on sports betting: The previous impact study in 2009 found that 8.2% of residents already bet on sports, even though the only options then were illegal wagers with local bookies or offshore web sites.

“It shouldn’t be a secret to anybody in the United States that sports betting was happening even when it was purportedly illegal,” said Rachel Volberg, a University of Massachusetts professor who led the study by Gemini Research.

More broadly, the researchers found that nearly 71% of all legal gambling revenue in the state comes from the fewer than 7% of residents who are problem (1.8%) or at-risk gamblers (4.9%).

“The proportion of Connecticut gambling revenue from the 1.8% of people with gambling problems ranges from 12.4% for lottery products to 51.0% for sports betting, and is 21.5% for all legalized gambling,” Gemini concluded.

The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services paid $1.2 million for Gemini to assess the socioeconomic impacts of legalized gambling, responding to a mandate from the General Assembly. 

The state posted the report online late Friday without comment.

The initial reaction in interviews Monday was that the report offered few surprises about the economic benefits and social harms of gambling, the potential for growth and the adequacy of prevention and treatment for problem gambling.

Paul Tarbox of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling said the industry’s financial reliance on a relatively small minority of gamblers might surprise the public but was well-established and not unique to Connecticut.

“That was always kind of a well-known thing,” said Tarbox, the council’s policy and communications director. 

Volberg said the calculations of spending by problem and at-risk gamblers were based on thousands of surveys in which gamblers provided their own monthly accounts of spending.

“It’s basically the proportion of what everybody tells us they spent on casino games, the proportion of the money that the problem gamblers tell us they spend,” Volberg said.

Problem gamblers are defined as those having “impaired control over their gambling that is also associated with significant negative consequences for themselves or others.” At-risk gamblers show “problem gambling symptomatology and/or are gambling at very high levels similar to problem gamblers.”

Representatives of the two tribal nations that own Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun reacted cautiously.

“We will do a deeper dive into the specific findings and provide additional comment of note since we weren’t invited to review or provide feedback on much of the report,” said Rodney Butler, chair of the Mashantucket Pequots, who own Foxwoods.

Chuck Bunnell, the chief of staff for the Mohegan tribe, and Butler both said they supported periodic impact studies.

“The Mohegan tribe, who considers Connecticut a real partner in this industry, feels that studies like this are incredibly important and relevant and need to get done on a regular basis to make sure that we are responding appropriately to the market and the needs of the market and problems that arise,” Bunnell said.

Butler said he was “pleased that it generally reconfirmed a lot of what we already knew about the Connecticut gaming market. The partnership between the tribes, the state, and the various agencies has created a vibrant and supportive gaming economy that stands out nationally.”

No one could be reached at the CT Lottery, which was closed for Lincoln’s Birthday.

Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, whose district is home to the two tribal casinos, said the report reinforced the economic benefits of gambling and noted the efforts to mitigate harms.

Based on answers to 100 or more questions in surveys about gambling and its perceived effects, residents were categorized as one of three types of gamblers: recreational, 62.6%; at risk, 4.9%; and problem, 1.8%. The other 30.7% are non-gamblers.

Connecticut’s 1.8% problem gambling rate sits at the midpoint between the 2.8% rate in New Jersey and an anomalously low 0.7% rate in New York based on a survey conducted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gemini commissioned two weighted surveys in March and April, one relying on online panel surveys with 2,847 residents assembled by the Centiment survey company and another with a mailed survey designed and administered by the University of Chicago to 5,259 respondents.

The report noted that precautions mandated by the state or voluntarily employed by the sovereign tribes offer customers the ability to self-exclude themselves for periods ranging from one year to life, and that treatment programs are sufficient to meet demand.

“In general, it can be said that problem gambling treatment and prevention in Connecticut has been quite proactive and provides a good model for the rest of the country,” the report said.

It added, however, that additional outreach was warranted.

A “minority of people with gambling problems were deterred from seeking help because of stigma, not believing treatment would work, being unaware of where to get help, and perceived costs,” report said.

One-third of people with gambling problems were unaware of the state’s gambling helpline, and half did not know about the state’s centralized self-exclusion program or the tribe’s individual ones.

Recommendations included flipping the concept of casino reward cards to reward control, not spending. It suggested no reward points after a certain was amount spent and extra points for taking a problem-gambling screen.

The casinos and sports books also might consider restricting hours of service, recognizing that people with gambling problems and at-risk for gambling problems disproportionately access services between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. 

Revenue at Connecticut’s casinos, which opened in the 1990s with no regional competition, peaked in 2007. The market has since saturated, with casinos in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.

Gemini says there is no viable market for another casino in the state.

“Online gambling, particularly online casino gambling, is the only type of gambling with significant future growth and revenue potential,” Gemini said. “In jurisdictions that have had online gambling for a much longer period of time (i.e., Europe) it constitutes a much larger portion of GGR [gross gambling revenue] than currently seen in North America.”

The percentage of sports bettors and online casino players are the same in Connecticut, but the casino games are generating more than double the revenue as the sports books.