Connecticut Report on Gambling Impact Shows Overreliance on Problem Gambling Spend

Those at risk of or suffering from gambling addiction account for the lion’s share of gambling revenue, according to worrisome findings by Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addictions Services (DMHAS). The researchers found that the highest-risk segments of gamblers make up less than 7% of the state population yet account for over 70% of Connecticut gaming revenue. Although the study did not consider other states, this finding echoes similar observations made by researchers around the world.

The 205-page study, Impacts of Legalized Gambling in Connecticut, is the first mandated research on the social and economic impacts of legalized gambling released since the state authorized online casino gaming and sports betting in 2021. University of Massachusetts professor Rachel Volberg led the efforts for Gemini Research.

To complete the study, researchers relied on data from various sources, including stakeholder interviews, population studies, surveys, economic modeling, operators, and mobile devices.

Additionally, the report addressed a secondary mandate to “review available data to assess the problem gaming resources available” and “inform recommendations on best practices and proposed regulatory changes.”

The last time Connecticut released a report on legalized gambling impact in the state was in 2009.

Most Connecticut Gamblers Bet Recreationally

Notably, the new study found that for most residents (93.5%), gambling is “not at all” or “not very” important—however, 1.8% identified gambling as a “very important” recreational activity. Interestingly, researchers also identified 1.8% of the population (50,000 residents) as people experiencing gambling problems. Another 4.9% are at risk of gambling harm.

In contrast, 62.6% of residents reported gambling recreationally, while 30.7% have avoided rolling the dice at all.

While the data indicated that many believe gambling’s harm outweighs its benefits (67.2%), most (63.4%) don’t consider gambling a moral failing. However, 69.2% of respondents identified gambling addiction as the “single most negative impact” of Connecticut’s legalized market.

Further, nearly 71% believe the responsibility for minimizing that harm belongs to individuals and gaming providers.

Regarding the benefits of legalized gambling, researchers found employment (21.6%) and tax revenue (20.1%) topped the list. Keeping money in-state (13.5%) and financial and employment benefits for local tribes (12.7%) followed close behind. However, 15.7% believe legalized gambling in Connecticut has wrought “no positive impacts” at all.

Younger Men Most Affected by Harm

Researchers found elevated rates of gambling harm in males, people under 65, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, other ethnicities, and those with less education.

However, they make clear that elevated risk fails to correspond directly to relative prevalence. Thus, those most associated with problem gambling in Connecticut are American-born white men between 18 and 34.

Compared to recreational gamblers, those with a problem are more likely to gamble to “escape or relieve stress.”

Other reasons problems gamblers cite for gambling include:

  • The competition or challenge
  • Feeling good about themself
  • Winning money

For people experiencing gambling problems, the majority indicate mental health issues as the main consequence (67.2%), with financial problems nabbing second place (51.6%). Relationship problems (30%), work/school issues (19.9%), illegal behavior (16.7%), and physical issues (10%) also figured prominently.

Researchers also identified “discrete impacts” of Connecticut’s gambling legalization. While domestic violence was the most common (14%), additional problems reported include:

  • Bankruptcy (13.5%)
  • Need for financial assistance (11.4%)
  • Involvement with child welfare services (8.5%)
  • Separation or divorce (7.3%)
  • Arrest (5.6%)
  • Losing job or quitting school (4.0%)
  • Suicide attempt (1.4%)

Report Urges Outreach & Promotion

While most respondents (62.6%) shared no opinion on the adequacy of Connecticut’s efforts to minimize gambling harm, the report offered a generally positive assessment.

From the report:

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. It is also the case that the treatment resources currently available are more than adequate to meet the demand.

However, it also delivered several recommendations for improvement.

First and foremost, researchers say additional outreach is warranted.

The report found a minority of those with gambling problems reported being deterred from seeking help because of stigma and not believing treatment would work. Being unaware of where to get help and perceived costs also played a role.

Additionally, nearly a third were unaware of Connecticut’s problem gambling helpline, while just over half did not know about the state voluntary exclusion programs.

As a result, the report urges outreach that shows treatment can work, publicly-funded treatment exists, and that there is no shame in seeking help. In particular, the report recommends targeting messages at those most at risk.

Other suggestions include:

  • Making self-help resources available online, at gambling venues, and mental health and substance abuse facilities
  • Boosting integration of problem gambling services with mental health, substance abuse, and behavioral health programs
  • Merging Connecticut’s trio of self-exclusion lists, developing a New England regional self-exclusion list
  • Instituting a “warm hand-off” for helpline callers, improved data collection, and a regular reporting schedule
  • Establishing gambling diversion programs and increasing training for bail commissioners, parole, and law enforcement officers
  • Monitoring gambling prevalence with annual and periodic surveys
  • Continuing to promote responsible gambling publicly
  • Continuing prevention work for at-risk groups, including service delivery in other languages.

Revenues Overly Reliant on At-Risk, Problem Gambling

While it’s far from only a Connecticut problem, researchers also highlighted the need to “reduce the industry’s financial reliance on at-risk and problem gamblers.” The reality that 70.6% of revenue comes from 6.7% of the population is much too high, Gemini wrote.

This imbalance, they said:

Serves to increase the chronicity of problem gambling and the likelihood of ‘at-risk’ gamblers transitioning to problem gamblers. The most effective way of preventing future problem gambling is to mitigate the risk within this at-risk group.

The report provides recommendations for consideration to prevent the development of future gambling harms:

  • Using automated alerts to reach reward card members and those playing online when behavior escalates.
  • Changing reward card programs to reward responsible gambling (for example, no points after a certain amount spent, extra points for taking a problem gambling screen, etc.) rather than rewarding people for total spending.
  • Restricting hours of service (both online and in-person) as statistics show people with or at risk for gambling problems disproportionately access services between 3 and 9 am.
  • Restricting ATM access or withdrawal amounts in gambling venues.
  • Implementing mandatory pre-commitment of gambling limits (identified as more effective than voluntary limits).

That said, when considering strategies to reduce the legal industry’s reliance on revenue from at-risk gamblers, it’s essential to ensure that the effect isn’t to push them to use illegal products instead.

For online gambling, in particular, the black market is only ever a Google search away. Other research has shown that using unregulated sites correlates with a greater risk of harm. Regulators are, therefore, faced with a tricky balancing act, keeping at-risk gamblers within the regulated market while finding ways to help them moderate their play.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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