The Problem Gambling Help Network of West Virginia is taking steps to address the growing concern of youth gambling in the state.
Over $40,000 in grants is earmarked for various community organizations to use for educating young people about the risks of gambling and the misconceptions surrounding it.
Recent surveys and statistics shine a light on just how widespread gambling activities are among children, and the problems they can cause if responsible gambling measures go unchecked.
West Virginia family and youth organizations to provide problem gambling education
The funding has been awarded to several community groups around West Virginia, including:
- Boys and Girls Club of the Eastern Panhandle
- Community Connections
- Family Resource Networks of Brooke, Hancock, Clay, Mason, Taylor and Wetzel counties
- Pleasants County Committee on Family Issues
- Reset, Inc.
- Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) groups in Barbour, Putnam and Clay counties
These organizations will use the grants to administer programs aimed at dispelling common gambling misconceptions, enhancing media literacy about gambling advertisements and helping young people recognize the signs of problematic gambling behavior.
West Virginia youth gambling statistics might surprise you
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, at least one in 50 WV residents will experience gambling addiction, and young people are two to four times more likely to develop problem gambling habits than adults.
The reality of youth gambling is concerning, as revealed by a recent survey conducted across WV involving teenagers, where 85% admitted to previously gambling.
Shelia Moran, spokesperson for 1-800-Gambler, illustrated the scope of the problem. According to WSAZ in Huntington, she said, “We did a survey last year of about 600 kids in West Virginia, and only 15% said that they had not gambled.”
The alarming numbers don’t stop there; 20% of respondents expressed concerns about a friend or family member’s excessive gambling, while 10% wanted to quit but didn’t know how.
Kids might be gambling and not even know it
Bree Ramey, president of the Mason County Family Resource Network, shared details on some of the awareness education they’ve led:
“We started with the little cafes, that are slot machine cafes, and just showing what those look like. The other thing we talked about was gaming and how they probably are already doing some form of gambling through gaming. And that’s when we talked about like, the loot boxes or prize boxes.”
Loot boxes are a feature of many popular online video games. They’re essentially a container with a random game items inside, which players can purchase with real money or game currency. The items inside the box can range from aesthetic items that change the look of the game character, to items that affect the game, like weapons or armor. Concern over loot boxes and the gambling-like behavior they encourage has been a growing topic in recent years.
Some major game studios make a majority of their revenue from in-game purchases of loot boxes and other virtual items. According to an article in Forbes, the video game industry made around $30 billion on loot boxes in 2018. A total of 90% of this revenue was generated from a small percentage of players, who are spending a disproportionate amount of money in the games. This suggests that some players, including underage gamers, are exhibiting problem gambling behavior.
Ramey emphasized the need for education to make kids and parents aware of gambling’s hidden dangers, stating, “It seems harmless. It’s not really affecting you right now, but if you let it get out of control, it can so easily.”
West Virginia state rep leads nationwide responsible gambling initiatives
As we recently reported, The National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) achieved a milestone in responsible gambling during its summer meeting in 2023. Spearheaded by Shawn Fluharty, Minority Whip in the West Virginia House of Delegates and the NCLGS president-elect, the organization unanimously approved a 16-point plan with suggestions for legal gambling states.
Emphasizing the need for states to unite and address problem gambling, Fluharty has advocated for a proactive approach. With the support of other NCLGS leaders, including Sen. Jon Ford of Indiana and Vice President Christie Carpino of Connecticut, the resolution aims to regulate gambling marketing, create exclusion programs and coordinate exclusion lists across states.
While the proposed standards do not carry legally binding power, they are seen as a substantial move toward better regulation and protection in the ever-expanding world of legal gambling.
Responsible gambling resources in West Virginia
Even with every possible gambling option legal in WV (retail casinos, online casinos, sports betting, horse racing and lottery), only about 1-2% of gamblers show problem gambling behaviors.
Various services and resources are available in WV and nationally that focus on responsible behaviors, self-exclusion options and further help for people experiencing distress due to gambling. Some available options are:
- The Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia: Offers support through its website and Helpline at 1-800-426-2537.
- National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG): Focuses on prevention, diagnosis, intervention and treatment strategies for those with gambling issues.
- The National Problem Gambling Helpline: Available at 1-800-522-4700.
- Gambler’s Anonymous: Provides support groups for individuals and families affected by gambling addiction.
- National Council on Problem Gambling: Works on a national level to support responsible gambling practices.