Addiction issues among young adults who gamble on sports

DES MOINES — Representatives of the state’s casinos, grocery stores, restaurants, the Iowa Lottery and the horse racing industry are all taking a shot at publicly explaining why they should get a slice of the action if the state legalizes betting on pro and college sports.

A 90-minute hearing was held at the statehouse yesterday and a two-hour hearing will be held later today on how sports wagering might be authorized in Iowa. Amy Campbell — a lobbyist for the Iowa Behavioral Health Association, which operates the gambling treatment programs in Iowa — told a senate subcommittee the group is opposed to expanding gambling options in Iowa.

“According to the Iowa Department of Public Health’s ‘your life Iowa’ website, 13 percent of Iowans say they have experienced symptoms of problem gambling in their lifetime,” Campbell said. “According to the Mayo Clinic, gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system, much like drugs and alcohol can, leading to addiction.”

If betting on college and pro sports is legalized in Iowa, Campbell urged lawmakers to ensure all systems — including smart phone apps — have some sort of lock-out option for addicts who sign up to barred from making bets. In addition, Campbell said the state should beef up public education efforts

“Particularly targeting youth and understanding the dangers of gambling, building awareness of what the symptoms of problem gambling are,” Campbell said.

Keith Miller, a Drake University law professor, is an expert on gambling. During a recent appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program, Miller said there’s a clear public health issue here.

“The demographic in our population that likes sports betting the most is a young demographic, from 21 to 35. Sports betting is their favorite type of gambling,” Miller said. “Unfortunately that demographic is also at a high risk of developing gambling disorders and I think that we can’t be blind to that.”

If lawmakers do legalize sports betting in Iowa, Miller said it’s important to nail down the exact amount of money dedicated to treatment for gambling addictions, or that money will be redirected to other programs when the economy sours and the state budget shrinks.