An updated survey of Pennsylvanians’ online gambling habits found that one in nine are taking part — the same as the year before — but the number reporting problems of any kind from doing so had actually dropped.
The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) on Thursday reported the findings from Online Gambling Report 2022, the second annual report of its kind prepared for the state by researchers at Penn State University.
The researchers surveyed 1,953 Pennsylvanians 18 and older between October 2021 and June 2022 as part of a legislative mandate to evaluate the impact of the state’s widespread iGaming expansion from a law enacted in 2017.
Pennsylvania is one of just six states with legalized online casino slots, table games, and poker play — which combined to generate $1.36 billion in revenue last year from 19 sites — on top of the digital sports betting that is more widely available across America. More than 92% of sports betting’s $7.25 billion in total Pennsylvania handle in 2022 came by phone or computer.
Similar to the first survey conducted in 2020-21, 11% of adults had engaged in some form of online gaming in the past year — most typically males in their late 30s interested in sports betting.
That plateau showing up so quickly after the advent of widespread online gambling in the state may be surprising, but Gillian Russell, a Penn State assistant research professor involved in the study, noted that the first survey came at a time of high COVID-19 rates in the state that reduced availability and popularity of in-person gambling.
“This project started during a very unique time in gambling,” she explained in an email to US Bets. “I think trying to apply what we may traditionally see — an uptick in the behavior, before an eventual leveling out — would be hard to justify under such unique circumstances.”
Biggest problem: needing to cut back
Somehow, the respondents’ reporting of problems related to gambling was less than in the first survey. Among those who had indulged in online gambling, 36.7% indicated they had experienced at least of one five potential problems they were asked about. In the initial survey, 44.6% indicated such problems.
Among the five potential problems listed for response by online gamblers, the most common was that 26.5% indicated they had felt reason to cut back or stop their level of gambling. Of the four others:
9.9% said they had gambled more than they intended.
9.7% had experienced a need to risk more money to get the same level of excitement.
5.6% indicated they had at some point felt preoccupied with gambling.
0% reported they had borrowed money in order to gamble.
The second study found 23.1% of online gamblers had reported just one of the above problems, 11.8% reported two of the problems, and 1.6% reported three of the problems.
The report did not attempt to explain the reduction in stated problems or establish a rate of problem gambling disorder in the state. The percentage nationally is commonly cited as in the range of 1% to 2% among adults. Russell told US Bets the study for now is intended to address “who is most likely to have a problem, but not the rates of who does,” while future surveys may be able to offer a fuller assessment.
Pennsylvania sets aside about $5 million annually for problem gambling treatment and education programs through DDAP from the state’s share of the more than $5 billion in annual commercial gaming revenue overall in the state.
That funding includes support for gambling helpline services in the state through the 1-800-GAMBLER number sponsored by the private Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania, which separately reported a 51.8% increase in calls related to internet gambling between 2021 and 2022. The new survey found about 1.7% of Pennsylvania adults had called a gambling helpline for themselves or others.
“This report will assist DDAP in its mission to assess and address how gambling behaviors impact compulsive and problems gambling within the commonwealth,” Dr. Latika Davis-Jones, DDAP’s acting secretary, said in a press release accompanying the report’s release. “Knowing the current online gambling trends in the state will help DDAP make informed decisions and help to spread awareness that treatment and resources are available to help when this recreational hobby becomes a more serious problem.”
Attracted by convenience, chance to profit
Respondents were asked about their motivation for gambling online, and the most common answers were for enjoyment (77.3%), convenience (66.1%), and availability (63.7%). But additionally, 63.4% said they did it to “win money,” which might be a stretch given the volume of operators’ revenue, and 31.7% were attracted by the anonymity and 26% by the high speed.
Asked what motivated them to end their sessions, 62.4% said it was when they had something else to do and 56.5% when they’d “won a lot of money.” But 53.6%, on the other hand, said it’s when they “run out of money.”
Interestingly, 34.4% of online gamblers said that they believed the harms of online gambling outweighed the benefits. That belief, obviously, did not stop them from indulging.
While advocates for legalization of sports betting and online gambling in America often tout the value of reducing the unregulated, untaxed black market, 13.3% of online gamblers said they were still engaging in some form of offshore or illegal online betting activity.
Discussion also frequently comes up in legalization debates as to whether online gambling will hurt traffic and revenue at already-established casinos or other brick-and-mortar gaming properties. The survey found 90.2% of online gamblers also participated in “offline,” or in-person, gambling.
The Penn State researchers led by Glenn Sterner, an assistant professor of criminal justice, are in the midst of conducting their third survey of Pennsylvanians, planning to gather additional information for it such as which websites are most visited and the frequency of each type of gambling behavior.