Experts fear Propositions 26 and 27 are a gamble on mental health

Propositions 26 and 27 asks voters to expand the boundaries of legal gambling, experts are concerned about exposing more individuals to possible gambling addiction disorders

CALIFORNIA – With the November election just around the corner, Californians have several decisions to make and gambling seems to be a costly topic in more ways than one.

As many other states have legalized sports betting, Californians now have a decision to make when it comes to propositions 26 and 27 which would legalize different forms of gambling in California. The efforts to push both of these propositions, is said to be the nation’s most costly endeavor according to Kaiser Health News. 

Regardless of the cost, the propositions do not appear to have the support they need to pass. Experts are concerned as online gambling continues to grow, there will be an increased number of individuals who struggle with addiction because of the ease to place bets.   

“In California, what we know is that approximately, more than 1% of Californians right now today, are struggling with a gambling addiction problem that’s shown up in their lives in the last year,” Dr. Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist and co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program said.  “So it’s not a rare condition.”

California is one of seven states that currently has no legislation regarding sports betting according to the American Gaming Association. California’s constitution only allows a limited criteria of gambling, but as online and sports betting becomes more popular, it is no surprise that according to the Business Insider, there is $3.1 billion in annual revenue at stake. Propositions 26 and 27 both broaden the scope of gambling in the state and voters have the ultimate say.

The propositions themselves  

The two propositions have a few large differences. Proposition 26 is supported by some of the state’s largest casino owners. It would allow online sports gambling only within the walls of existing casinos who already offer gambling, in addition to horse racing venues, but nowhere else in the state. This proposition could generate tens of millions of dollars annually, but according to the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), it is hard to tell an exact amount. 

Proposition 27 is supported and funded by national corporate gambling sites like DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM. It would legalize online sports betting and open the door for individuals to bet on games, the athletes and even each play. It also opens the door to gamble on non-athletic activities like award shows. Because this proposition would legalize gambling online, the possibilities become endless not only to what you can bet on but where you can place your bets as well. Proposition 27, has the possibility to generate hundreds of millions of dollars according to the LAO.

Changes associated with online gambling

While both propositions expand California’s current betting laws experts are concerned about the ease of access Proposition 27 could provide. In particular, experts think Proposition 27 would expose people to gambling who otherwise would not have.

“There are no caps or upper limits to how much you can spend,” Dr. Fong said. “So that’s why it would create access for a lot of people who don’t have access already, or people who are just curious.”

Sports betting of some fashion is legal in over 30 states plus Washington D.C., but in 2021 there were 19 states with dead legislation according to the American Gambling Association (AGA). According to Kaiser Health News, calls to gambling hotlines in states like Michigan, Connecticut and New York spiked after the legalization of gambling in their states. Dr. Fong said there has been a mixed response from several of the other states.

“What we want to know is that any expansion of gambling does change the culture of California,” Dr. Fong said. “That changes where people spend their entertainment money, and it changes the conversations that happen inside every home.” 

Addiction 

Like many other addictions, including alcohol or drugs, gambling can become a problem for many individuals. According to the California Council for Problem Gamblers, problem gambling is widely recognized as a chronic disorder marked by an uncontrollable urge to gamble. It is classified under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) as a gambling disorder

The DSM diagnostic criteria states a “persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behavior leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as indicated by the individual exhibiting four (or more) of the [criteria] in a 12 month period.”

A gambling disorder involves the same type of stimulation that other addictive disorders do, even though nothing is ingested according to KHN. Mesolimbic dopamine is released and is the leader of incentive motivation in the brain, according to the National Library of Medicine. The dopamine is released to a “larger extent in pathological gamblers than in healthy controls during gambling episodes.”

The concern is individuals will get caught too deep. Dr. Fong said California is unique because of the funding it has available for those struggling with gambling addictions. However, compared to funding for other addictions like tobacco, or alcohol the funding is nowhere near the caliber it should be. The state was able to implement a state funded treatment program available to patients at no cost. 

Harold A., who wished to keep his full name undisclosed, is a grateful recovering compulsive gambler, who has not placed a bet in a little over 26 years. He is a part of Gamblers Anonymous (GA), which is a fellowship set out to help individuals who are struggling with a gambling addiction. He said the organization does not take a position on whether gambling is good or bad nor do they take a position on the current propositions that will be on the ballot in November.

Harold A. said he believes if either of these propositions pass, there will be an increase in individuals who need help. GA follows the same 12 step process that Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous does and they have meetings in the Central Valley area. Harold A. currently is a sponsor to an individual who is 21-years-old and has been in recovery since he was 19-years-old. He said with the ease of online gambling, it makes it increasingly hard for young people to determine whether or not they have a problem. 

“This young man was a sports bettor, and, you know, sports betting on your device is not going to go away,” Harold A. said. “This just opens the floodgates.”

Gambling and youth 

Many young individuals today have not known a world without gambling at their fingertips. Illegal gambling is not going away and Dr. Fong said young people will continue to be interested in online gambling. 

“We know that young people are going to be really drawn to this because this is that natural intersection of sports and money and entertainment,” Dr. Fong said.

Jeffery Derevensky, a professor of psychology at McGill University noted in Journal of Gambling Studies, international studies report that up to 80-99% of adolescents engage in some form of gambling. Of that large percentage, up to 12% of those adolescents meet the criteria for behavior of a pathological gambler. As gambling becomes more and more present, additional youth will continue to be exposed.

One thing California is doing with funding for gambling prevention is helping get the word out through a youth program called Friday Night Live. Each year, they receive $500,000 from the Office of Problem Gambling according to Friday Night Live administrator Lynne Goodwin. Their headquarters just so happen to be in our own backyard in Tulare County. They run a program called Betting On Our Future, (BOOF) that works to provide information and education on gambling addiction for young people.  

“It is really an awareness campaign,” Goodwin said. “Problem Gambling is more difficult to address with young people because it moves through our communities in different ways. The main focus is building awareness that gambling is addictive.”

Goodwin said young people are often introduced to gambling inadvertently and a lot of times it is disregarded as an addiction because it can be considered a leisure sport. The program builds an awareness campaign and public service announcement through their own data collection throughout the community. Anyone can join the program, it’s not an assignment but a program of attraction to help others in need. 

Focus on funding 

Neither of the ballot measures offer a great deal more help for addiction protection or help. Neither ballot measure specifically requires the state to improve their programs, tracking or treatment plans. 

Proposition 26 includes a provision to direct 10% of sports betting revenue from horse-racing tracks to a new California Sports Wagering Fund (CSWF). Of that 10%, the language states a fraction of those monies will be set aside for gambling addiction and mental health programs and grants. However, this funding is only from the racetracks, which includes the state’s four privately operated racetracks. 

Proposition 27 would require tribes and gambling companies with sports betting licenses to pay 10% of sports bets made each month to the state into a California Online Sports Betting Trust Fund (COSBTF). Of the remainder of that money, 85% is said to address homelessness and gambling addiction programs and the remaining 15% goes to tribes who are not involved in sports betting. 

Because the revenue from these propositions is so high, even if they do not pass, who is to say they won’t come right back during the next election cycle. For example, in New Jersey, online sports betting accounted for almost 95% of new tax revenue in its 2020 calendar year, totaling $49.4 million according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. According to California Casinos, proposition 27 would generate $2.8 billion for the state of California. 

However, according to a study done by University of California Berkeley and The LA Times, the passage of either of the propositions is not looking positive. Through the poll only 31% of likely voters showed their support for proposition 26, where 42% opposed it according to the survey of 6,939 likely voters. For proposition 27 on the other hand, only 27% of voters showed support and 53% opposed. 

If you or someone you know may be struggling with a gambling disorder, there are several pathways that are available. 

The Central Valley Gamblers Anonymous hotline is 855-2CALLGA, or 855-222-5542
The National Problem Gambling helpline is 1-800-522-4700
The California Council on Problem Gambling 714-765-5804
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline is 1-800-662-HELP or 1-800-662-4357

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