Report: Oklahoma has a huge gambling addiction problem

With more casinos per capita than any other state, Oklahoma has one of the worst gambling problems in America.

That’s is one of the conclusions of WalletHub in its report, “2017’s Most Gambling Addicted States.”

With about 130 tribal casino operations, Oklahoma ranks as No. 7 in the “most addicted” category and No. 4 in “gambling friendliness.”

The report states that Americans lose roughly $100 billion through gambling each year. WalletHub’s analysts compared the 50 states across 15 areas, from the presence of illegal gambling operations to lottery sales per capita to share of adults with gambling disorders.

Oklahoma has a state-run lottery that could be on the verge of expansion due to a Republican-sponsored bill in the Legislature.

Here is how Oklahoma is ranked among the 50 states in terms of gambling problems:

No. 1 – Casinos per capita

No. 2 – Gambling machines per capita

No. 5 – Legality of sports gambling

No. 11 – Percentage of adults with gambling disorders

No. 23 – Legality of daily fantasy sports (iGaming, online fantasy sports and video poker, etc.)

No. 28 – Gambling related arrests per capita

According to the WalletHub report, “Gambling exists in every state, even Hawaii and Utah, where gambling is prohibited by law. But all gamblers are different. ‘Recreational’ or ‘social’ gamblers, for instance, buy the occasional scratcher, take the rare casino trip or bet small stakes in fantasy sports. But they also possess the mental capacity to quit at any point and prevent catastrophic financial loss. ‘Professional’ gamblers make up another group — the likes of math genius Edward Thorp and high-stakes sports bettor Bill Krackomberger — who gamble well enough to make a living out of it but are able to separate work from personal life.

“But when the business or pleasure gets out of control, gambling becomes a real medical condition. Gambling disorder, as the affliction is known, affects slightly more than 2 percent of all U.S. adults.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs such as alcohol can, leading to addiction.”

“That addiction can lead to serious economic consequences,” the report states. “On a societal level, compulsive gambling costs an estimated $6 billion per year, according to a study by the National Council on Problem Gambling. Individually, a male gambling addict accumulates an average debt of between $55,000 and $90,000 whereas a female averages $15,000. Most cannot afford to pay back what they owe. As a result, gambling addicts develop a high tendency to amass even more debt, suffer from other health issues, lose their jobs, strain their relationships or even commit crimes.

“The gambling problem, however, is much bigger in some states than in others.”

The estimated $240 billion gaming industry may be a contributor to the U.S. economy but critics argue that gambling leads to social and economic problems, including gambling disorder and regressive taxes on residents of local economies.

Lindsay D. Grace, director of the American University Game Lab and Game Studio; associate professor of Film and Media Art at American University; and board member at Global Game Jam, Inc., was asked if sports betting should be legal in all states.

“In short, the challenge with legal betting is the draw of what we call ‘deep play’ in game design,” Grace said. “Players become so involved in the prospect of winning, that they throw all reason out the door. Games, whether designed to support gambling or keep us playing on a video game console, are often designed to maximize engagement. That means that they trigger parts of psychology and sociology to lure us to stay a little longer, play a little longer, and seek the endorphin rush of a win (or more often near win).

“While it’s not exactly brain hacking, the challenge is how we want to monitor such behavior. If it is legal, we can mandate rules that prevent people from being bamboozled or cheated. If it is not legal, players will seek these experiences anyway. Since deep play is such a threat to rational behavior, it seems better that we build in legal failsafes to prevent people from hurting themselves. In some ways this is similar to what we do for prescription drugs or getting a drivers license, we construct failsafes.”

Family and friends should recognize the signs when someone becomes addicted to gambling at tribal casinos or with the lottery.

“When someone is engaging in the behavior at the cost of their base needs, eating, socialization, paying bills clearly there is a problem,” Grace said. “The psychological profile for addiction shares traits across a variety of stimulus, although with gambling the physical attributes may not present themselves (unlike something like liver disease in alcoholism). Instead, the signs are often behavioral. It’s also important to note that the quiet addict, one who sneaks away unbeknownst to family and friends, often surprises people because it’s hard to detect.”

Michael Zyda, director of the GamePipe Laboratory and professor of Engineering Practice at The University of Southern California, said betting on sports should be discouraged.

“There are too many conflicts of commitment that sports betting creates; having it everywhere would cause many societal problems,” Zyda said.

He advocates more regulation of daily fantasy sports betting and government-run lotteries, which he says are regressive in terms of their impact on poor people.

“Especially with the recent discovery that there were problems with some online fantasy sports sites,” Zyda said. “State lotteries are a tax on those poor with math — in Los Angeles I have even seen homeless people purchasing lottery tickets in downtown LA convenience markets.”

And there are questions about organizations who are supposed to help those with gambling addictions. The Oklahoma Association for Problem and Compulsive Gambling has tribal affiliations in which casino employees are taught to spot “problem gambling.” But the nonprofit OAPCG officially is not “for or against legalized gambling.” It is funded by the State of Oklahoma, casinos and private donations.

On the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services website, the OSPCG states, “Gambling in the State of Oklahoma has changed dramatically over the past years. Today, it is more accessible, more accepted and more glamorized than ever before. Gambling has become part of Oklahoma’s landscape, culture, and economy with horse tracks, casinos, the compulsive gambling doubles in areas within 50 miles of a casino. Oklahoma provides services to adults and adolescents with gambling related disorders/problems. Gambling disorders includes pathological gambling, problem gambling, and relative or significant other of a person with a gambling problem.”

Most casinos per capita

  1. Nevada
  2. Oklahoma
  3. South Dakota
  4. Montana
  5. New Mexico
  6. Arkansas
  7. Georgia
  8. Hawaii
  9. New Hampshire
  10. South Carolina


Most gambling machines per capita

  1. Nevada
  2. Oklahoma
  3. South Dakota
  4. Montana
  5. Mississippi
  6. Georgia
  7. Hawaii
  8. New Hampshire
  9. South Carolina
  10. Tennessee
  11. Utah

Highest Lottery Sales per Capita

  1. Delaware
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Rhode Island
  4. West Virginia
  5. Maryland
  6. Alabama
  7. Alaska
  8. Hawaii
  9. Mississippi
  10. Utah
  11. Nevada

Most Gambling Addicted States

  1. Nevada
  2. South Dakota
  3. Montana
  4. West Virginia
  5. Mississippi
  6. New Jersey
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Oregon
  9. Louisiana
  10. Ohio