Michigan’s Face Of Gambling Addiction Getting Younger As Sector Expands

Written By Drew Ellis on March 1, 2022
Young gambler playing online roullette

A decade ago, the average problem gambler was a middle-aged man with a full-time job and a college education.

Now, with the advancement of online gambling, that average has entered a new generation.

The National Council on Problem Gambling currently recognizes the average problem gambler as a male between the ages of 18 and 35.

As Problem Gambling Awareness Month begins, we start by bringing attention to the new look of the problem gambler in today’s world.

Today’s problem gambler

The landscape of gambling in the state of Michigan changed forever this past year when online sports betting and iGaming was legalized.

With the introduction of mobile apps, users no longer have to venture out to gamble. The industry has been brought to them.

It has been the biggest change overall in gambling in the last 20 years, at least from my perspective since I’ve been working in the field and watching it,” Michael Burke, executive director of the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling said. “Instead of being 50 to 60 miles from the casino, you’re now six inches from holding the casino in your hand. Instead of there being dozens of casinos in Michigan, every individual in the state of Michigan is walking around with a casino in their pocket. So, it’s created a real difference.”

The added access and emphasis on mobile technology has understandably opened the door for a younger gambler. With that also comes a younger problem gambler.

“The National Council did an engaged study on the new forms of gambling. The numbers of people who are getting involved today are of a different age. It’s now age 18-to-35-year-old young males that are the new problem gambler,” Burke said. “That’s what we’re seeing, because they’re the ones who are so comfortable on all the devices that are being used for online gambling.”

Looking back at problem gamblers of the past

As we see where things stand today, let’s look back at how the problem gambler used to look.

The University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, did a 2011 study profiling the average demographics of problem gamblers. The study surveyed thousands of North American and international gamblers. Included in the survey were internet gamblers and non-internet gamblers.

They found that the average retail gambler was a male averaging an age of 51.2 years.

The study also included a profile on Internet gamblers, though access and services were far more limited in 2011. At that time, any Internet gamblers in the U.S. would have had to have been using offshore sportsbooks.

Their findings also concluded the average internet gambler in 2011 was a male averaging 45.7 years of age.

Other notable demographics of problem gamblers that were over 50 percent were:

  • Married
  • At least some college education
  • Full-time employment

Despite change in age, same characteristics exist

Though the age of the average gambling addict may be dropping, the characteristics of a problem gambler are not.

Many problem gamblers still struggle to see the warning signs that they are exhibiting.

“The real problem is that today only one in 10 compulsive gamblers actually seek help for their gambling problem,” Burke said. “You can imagine what that means is going on with the other nine out of 10. One of my favorite quotes on the matter is that the chains of addiction are too weak to be felt, until they’re too strong to be broken. When the gambler finally understands that he or she has a problem, it’s too late. They’re addicted.”

Burke, who has battled gambling addiction himself, sees the first step toward becoming a problem gambler is getting that first victory.

“In the end, they think they can win in the long run. That’s why winning is the first phase toward addiction, and usually it includes a big win,” Burke said. “You take a problem gambler who might go to the casino 20 times, and only come out ahead one time. But, the only thing they’ll remember after that is that one trip. It’s not the 19 trips when they lost. They believe that if they play enough, they have to win. That’s the gambler’s fallacy. It’s all built on the casino’s edge, and everybody knows that and the casino certainly never hides it. But compulsive gamblers for some reason believe that they’re going to do better at it. They don’t believe in random studies that show that you can sit there for a week and not hit or you can sit down and win $1 million on one pull. There’s no control that the gambler has over it. But unfortunately, we really do feel that we in some way are controlling it.”

Spreading awareness

With the average age of a problem gambler dropping, it is leading to a growing concern from problem gambling awareness advocates.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Community Mental Health Association of Michigan want to put more emphasis on educating the youth about gambling addiction in the next year.

“With this increased accessibility to gambling, we’re going to look at a younger demographic of individuals who are gambling. So we’re trying to make sure they’re getting increased messaging about what gambling looks like and when it’s problematic,” Alia Lucas, a gambling disorder prevention and treatment program specialist for the MDHHS, said. “We’re also targeting parents, too, because that’s often a demographic that we disregard as far as youth and young adults. Some parents aren’t considering the possibility of their children engaging in that behavior. So, we want to bring it to the forefront so parents are aware of how prevalent it actually is.”

That will be one of the many topics discussed during the Problem Gambling Symposium that will be taking place virtually on March 3 and 4. The two-day event runs from 8:30 a.m. to noon each day and is free to anyone interested in attending. You just must register prior to the event.

If you or anyone you know needs help with their gambling-related issue, call the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-270-7117.

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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is currently the Lead Writer of PlayILottery.com. He was the former Lead Writer of PlayMichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

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