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IN-DEPTH: The dark side to having online sports books at your fingertips

"It was the thing to do with family and friends, and then it wasn't fun anymore."
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Posted at 7:02 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 19:02:18-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The online sports betting industry is less than a month old, in New York State, but it is already collected more than half-a-billion dollars, in wagers.

The question, however, is does being able to bet on your phone from your living room, do more harm than good regardless of the payout?

The sports betting industry made more than $3 billion, in 2021. This number is expected to top $10 billion by 20-25.

The money pouring into this industry is picking up, thanks to the legalization of online sports betting.

Thirty-one states have introduced the platform, since 2018, with New York becoming the most recent to join them.

In the two weeks after New York legalized online sports betting on January 8, New Yorkers wagered more than $6 million.

However, research has shown there may be a dark side to having online sports books at your fingertips.

In a 2020 study from the National Council on Problem Gambling, 16% of online gamblers met the criteria for a gambling disorder. Another 13% showed some signs of gambling problems.

The study states the live-play feature of online betting, which lets you bet on games as they are happening, can increase the risk of problematic behavior.

Slot machines, sports books, the lottery and even office parties, we see gambling all across society.

Licensed clinical social worker, Jakob Smidt explained, "There's these little, subtle forms of gambling that we all have experienced. Where it becomes a potential problem is when we go back, and we begin maybe to spend more than we intended to."

Eighty-four percent of adults surveyed in New York State shared that they gambled in 2020. This includes 28% who bet on sports in the same year, either through a state-sanctioned book or at a non-state-sanctioned book, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.

"For many years of my life, gambling was a celebration, it was entertainment, it was fun. It was the thing to do with family and friends, and then it wasn't fun anymore," New York certified recovery peer advocate, Scott Meyer said.

Long Island resident, Scott Meyer said he became addicted to gambling at the age of 33. At the time, he had his own accounting firm.

"It was fun until it wasn't. It became a job, a chore, an addiction. A clear addiction that takes over what you do on a daily basis, how you think, the decisions you make. It changes your personality," Meyer said.

He said he started hiding things from his family, gambling away his family's life-savings.

"I stopped when I was arrested because money ran out and my focus from work went to focus from gambling. I didn't have enough to support," Scott explained.

Then in 2015, Meyer was sentenced to 4 1/2 to 13 1/2 years in a New York State prison, after pleading guilty to stealing roughly $800,000 from clients, including victims who were ill or disabled.

"I used money that wasn't technically my money. So, it was the bottom of all bottoms," the Long Island native said.

Problem gamblers represented 4.3% of the New York State population, according to the 2020 Annual Report on Problem Gambling Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Services.

It seems like a small percentage for a state with about 20 million people but Buffalo clinical social worker, Jakob Smidt worries about the impact the state's new online sports betting law could have on New Yorkers.

"I do think with how easily accessible it is to put a bet down that has nothing to do with money so-to-speak. You don't go and take out cash. It is so easily accessible that to just press a button that you don't think about this until it may be too late," Smidt said.

Smidt also works with the New York Problem Gamblers Program. He takes two different avenues depending on a person's goal: harm reduction or the abstinence approach.

He sees a common denominator among his patients with other underlying mental health issues.

Smidt explained, "Is there anxiety that is causing this, is it maybe depression? Is it the habits that have become so ingrained that it hard for that person to hard for that person to navigate or manage that. What are some of the triggers?"

"There are some characteristics that make you more prone to become problem gambler; drug use, impulsive, manic behavior. it could be related to ADHD," licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Bruce Pace said.

Doctor Pace said he noticed his clients were exposed to gambling at a young age.

This is true in Meyer's case.

Meyer said, "With gambling, I've been involved all my life. Gambling was introduced to me at young age when it was common for a poker game with your friends and family. Gambling wasn't hidden at all, meaning it was out in the open. Parents went to casinos, played cards, bet on things. It was something that was always present."

"Kids are more impulsive. They'll get involved in doing things that will allow them a certain amount of freedom Certainly, gambling gives you more money than you would make at a job," Dr. Pace said.

Experts said moderation is key.

"You want to spend money that's not going to hurt you if you lose it because in all likelihood you're going to lose it," Dr. Pace said/>

Now a peer advocate, Meyer's stint in prison lasted about 2 years due to his eligibility to work to release program.

"You have help. We're here to help. Just pick up the phone," Meyer explained.

Anyone who needs help with a gambling addiction is asked to contact Western Problem Gambling Resource Center. A number of resources are available.