Gambling addiction addressed ahead of legalized sports betting in Kansas

While excitement builds for the change, there also come concerns about gambling addiction.
Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 6:57 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - With sports betting set to begin in Kansas within a few weeks, the temptation might be there to get on your phone and download one of the many sports betting apps that are out there. Advertising from some of these apps is already targeting Kansans ahead sports wagering in the state becoming legalized in early September. While excitement builds for the change, as with any sort of gaming, it could become problematic and an addiction for some.

Sports betting has exploded in popularity nationwide, with the American Gaming Association reporting about 30 states and the District of Columbia legalizing it in some way.

Like any addiction, counselor Stephenie Roberts says it all starts in the brain.

“It affects the reward center in your brain, just like if you were taking cocaine or some other drug. Your brain likes the feeling you get from the anticipation of a possible win,” Roberts said.

Roberts, who also sits on the South Central Kansas Problem Gambling Task Force, has visited with clients that have issues with gambling, which can destroy lives if not maintained.

“In the past, I would have clients that were doing sports betting who, on every break, would place a bet. The risks increase because of the easy accessibility. When someone has to drive somewhere to do their gambling, there’s some decisions that have to be made. When you’re having strong urges and you have a phone in your hand, it doesn’t take any time at all and you can get yourself in hot water,” Roberts added.

Eric Litwiller with the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas notes that while there is currently no evidence of what causes gambling addiction in the mental health realm, there have been some commonalities found in those who are addicted.

“People going into a casino for the first time, they don’t know if throwing a nickel in the slot machine and walking away is what’s going to happens with them, or if putting in a nickel in the slot machine is the start of a downward spiral, we don’t know in advance. But we do know from studying people who live with gambling addictions, there are certain mental health indicators that might give us a clue. For instance, people who live with substance use disorder are more inclined to become addicted to gambling. People who live with obsessive compulsive disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, people who have pre-existing anxiety or depressive disorders....I can’t sit here and say if you have any of those things, you’re going to become a gambling addict. But from talking to people who are gambling addicts, those are some of the mental health markers that we see that are held in common,” Litwiller says.

“People have lost marriages, people have lost jobs, gambled away children’s college savings accounts...the damage is inifinite that can be done if it’s not caught,” Litwiller adds.

If you decide to try your hand at betting, Roberts says it all comes down to knowing your limit.

“Setting a time limit, setting a money limit. Only use the money you intend to lose, don’t think of it in any other way. If you can’t afford to lose it, don’t bet it.”

If you or someone you know has a problem with gambling, contact the Kansas Problem Gambling Help Line at 800-522-4700.