Given that Cape May County is a short drive from neighboring Atlantic City casinos, the start there last month of funded treatment for gambling addiction is very welcome — and shockingly late. The county has one of the state’s highest rates of gambling participation, about 76%. And as a Rutgers University survey in 2017 found, nearly 10% of those who bet the past year have a gambling problem.
Cape Assist, a Wildwood-based addiction counseling service, has partnered with the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey to offer the treatment.
While sooner would have been better, this is a good time to help. Last year, New Jersey prevailed in its federal lawsuit and inaugurated the era of legal sports gambling. A co-founder of the state council, Arnie Wexler, predicted that would lead to a wave of new gamblers and related problems. A year before sports betting, the Rutgers survey had found 6.3% of New Jersey residents had a gambling disorder, about triple the national rate.
Gambling addiction is a medical disorder that causes constant urges and cravings for the next euphoric feeling from betting. Then when things go wrong, it delivers intense feelings of shame, guilt and worthlessness. Left untreated, problem gambling can lead to bankruptcy, prison, self-harming behaviors and suicide. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 1 in 5 gambling addicts tries to commit suicide, the highest rate for any kind of addiction. They are thought to account for 5% of all suicides.
New Jersey has been a leader not just in casino gambling and sports betting, but also in accepting responsibility for the problems that gambling brings to many people.
In March, Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said that he thought “only New Jersey” had met all five of its minimum standards for responsible sports betting legislation. These include: dedicating funds to prevent and treat gambling addiction; requiring sports betting operators to offer self-exclusion and limits on time and money spent betting; assigning a regulatory agency to enforce the regulations; conducting surveys on gambling addiction to gauge problems and better provide help; and setting a minimum age for sports gambling and related fantasy games.
Yet in June, DraftKings reported to the state that a software glitch in November had allowed 54 online sports gamblers to continue betting past limits they had set. The company was fined $5,000.
Since it took self-reporting by the betting website to make the state aware of the violation — and several months after the fact — in this area anyway New Jersey oversight is insufficient to ensure operators in the state are complying with its standards. That needs to be addressed.
State government has gathered vast revenues from its many forms of legal gambling and generally done a good job of providing help for those who are compromised by the constant availability of an addicting experience.
With New Jersey’s very successful push into online and sports wagering, officials must make extra efforts to identify and mitigate the problems they create.