When Ohioans place their first legal sports wagers within state lines on New Year’s Day, they will immediately have a broader buffet of betting options — mobile sportsbooks, retail tellers, and kiosks at neighborhood businesses like bars, bowling alleys, and grocery stores — than in any other state to date.
But while these may be exciting times for Buckeye State sports bettors, Ohio’s launch has the potential to create an unnerving situation for those seeking to prevent or treat gambling addiction.
“My initial reaction was one of concern,” Dr. Gregory Stewart, an associate professor of social work at the University of Cincinnati, told OH Bets when asked how he first felt when he learned that sports betting would be legal in the state. “My initial concern was around how we can prevent individuals who are underage from this experience and get individuals into treatment.”
As spring turned into summer, Mike Buzzelli, the associate director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio (PGNO), started seeing a dramatic spike in inquiries from administrative officials on college campuses statewide. While he was happy to see these schools seek resources, he told OH Bets, “We wish the interest would have been a little sooner than five months” before the statewide launch of sports betting.
But Buzzelli perked up when he noticed an unusual grant applicant for the PGNO’s service consultation program, which, he said, “is typically built for community agencies who do prevention and treatment to work with me to consult on how they can better screen and integrate gambling disorder services into their whole approach.”
The “really great” application in question came from Stewart and his University of Cincinnati School of Social Work colleagues, who, in Buzzelli’s words, “want to add gambling addiction into their social work curriculum and make sure alumni with graduate degrees get the hours they need, because they know it will be an area of competency.”
Social workers ‘uniquely positioned’ to help
During a video call with fellow assistant professors James Pease and Wayne Kinney, Stewart called the PGNO partnership “a fantastic opportunity,” adding, “There will be a number of ways, starting in January, where we’ll be able to see the impact of this grant.”
In essence, what Stewart and his colleagues want to do is get School of Social Work students, faculty, and alumni credentialed to provide counseling to people who are struggling with gambling addiction or are at risk of falling prey to such an affliction. The plan is to have this evolve to include student-to-student counseling and to reach remote corners of the state.
“We have the capability of partnering with field internships around the state and getting students endorsed by these agencies,” said Kinney, who’s in charge of distance learning. “If we get to that point, I think we’re in a good position. Social work is uniquely positioned because we look at people and an environment.”
To get the word out, the university will host a Jan. 20 workshop for faculty that will address gambling addiction treatment ethics, as well as a problem gambling conference for School of Social Work alumni on March 31.
“Social workers are often the frontline therapists, clinicians who meet with clients who are vulnerable, and I feel like problem gambling fits right into that area,” Pease said. “Social workers, our charge is to help people with problems of living. We’ve been trained to talk to people about subjects in very non-judgmental ways. We’ve been trained specifically to talk to people about problems that people usually don’t want to talk about.”