Q & A with Elizabeth Toomey

By Mary Beth Roach

Mobile sports betting in New York state expected to effect problem gambling, says team leader for the Central Region Problem Gambling Resource Center

Q: What does your organization do?

A: We have two main goals. One is to educate about the adverse effects of problem gambling. The second is to help individuals and families that are affected by problem gambling.

Q: Can you define social gambling vs. problem gambling?

A: Social gambling is what the majority of people do. They go out, they bring their 20 bucks, their 30 bucks, they go in, they have a nice evening, and they leave. Problem gambling is when your gambling experiences start to affect other parts of your life such as relationships, money, financial, work, that type of thing.

Q: What trends are you seeing?

A: Right now, it’s mobile sports betting. We’re seeing some trends around gaming and gambling. A lot of the internet games that people are playing now have different gambling options within the games. We’re seeing Bitcoin and Deutsch coin. That’s a form of gambling that people don’t understand. You have to look at the stock market. (For) somebody, even with a gambling addiction they might be recovering from, the stock market gives them that thrill also.

Q: With the legalization of mobile sports betting in New York state in January, what kind of impact do you think that will have on problem gambling?

A: It’s going to have a big impact. We’re starting to see it a little bit right now, but I think the biggest thing with the mobile sports betting, it’s 24/7. It’s accessible 24 hours a day. You can place endless numbers of wagers. That’s going to have a big impact on us. We don’t worry so much about the money part as much. What we see is the more accessibility, the more problems happen.

Q: When you say you don’t see the money part of it as much, explain that. 

A: The money is a cause of it, but the greater concern is when there’s increased availability of any type of gambling, it leads to more problems.

Q: What would those problems look like?

A: We see with mobile sports betting the problems look a lot like the warning signs that we see with regular gambling, except for the fact that it’s on your mobile device. You spend more time and you’re more apt to bet more.

Q: Have you seen the number of calls into your organization increase over the past few months?

A: We have seen an increase in calls. Some of them being mobile sports betting, some of them just people realizing they need help and getting the help that they need. We’ll start to see more on the mobile sports betting side in another couple of months.

Q: There seems to be with the addiction, a physical manifestation, and some people have said gambling or gaming provides an adrenaline rush.

A: We call gambling the hidden addiction because it’s just like any other addiction we have out there, the opiate addiction, the alcohol addiction or even the nicotine addiction. That high or that rush, and then you need more of that to keep going. The only difference is that with gambling you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it and you really can’t see it until they’re really deep into the addiction—when the houses are being repossessed, the money’s gone, can’t pay bills. Those everyday needs can’t be met because they’ve gambled that all away.

Q: There’s been talk that there’s a correlation between alcoholism and problem gambling. Do you agree with that?

A: We are seeing a correlation. About 73% of people diagnosed with a gambling disorder also had an alcohol use disorder. Everywhere you can gamble, there’s alcohol involved. Alcohol can heighten the effects of the excitement and can lower the inhibitions in a sense to how much are you really spending and how much time have you put into gambling.

Q: What are some of the signs that a loved one might look for if they suspect problem gambling with a friend or a family member?

A: I think some of the most common ones that we see are: language will probably change a little bit. There will be more of the gambling language, especially with mobile sports betting things. Things like parley, point spread—words like that they might have not used before. With mobile sports betting, someone getting into a sport that they’ve never been interested in before and now they’re kind of obsessed, looking at the scores. The general one, no matter whether it’s mobile sports betting, casino, cards, lottery tickets—spending more than you can afford; looking for those bailouts from friends and family because you don’t have the money; bills not being paid; loved ones rushing home to get the mail before you do because they don’t want you to see that they didn’t pay that bill or the rent this month. I think a big one, too, is missing those events that you normally have in your life with your family and friends because you want to go to the casino or you want to watch that football game; missing out on those life events. If you’re worried about a loved one, learn more about compulsive gambling stages here.

Q: Do you see a lot of problem gambling associated with gaming?

A: We’ve had calls to our helpline for people that are struggling and looking for help. But the biggest concern for us is a lot of those games now have a casino right in it that you can put your credit card in and gamble within the casino. Gambling is defined as risking something of value for a chance of a reward, and if we look at the loot boxes that come in some of the games, you’re giving them a couple bucks and hope that you’re getting the big package.  That’s kind of a form of gambling, also. (According to the website intenta.digital, “loot boxes are virtual items in video games that contain randomized rewards. They are one such technique borrowed from the gambling world that has become profitable for the gaming industry.”)

Q: Your organization provides resources for problem gamblers or the loved ones of a problem gambler. What kind of resources are out there?

A: The New York Council on Problem Gambling and the Resource Centers are in all 62 counties and boroughs of the city of New York. So we cover the whole state. All our services are free. If somebody calls us here in Central New York, you’re going to get myself or somebody on my team here in Central New York. You’re getting someone who knows your community. We have our own special network of private practitioners within our region who have been trained in counseling for problem gambling. We also know because it is the hidden addiction, some people have lost their jobs (and) don’t have insurance at this point. We keep our staff very small so that if somebody calls us and can’t afford to pay for it or a family member calls and it’s not covered under their insurance, we’ll pay for it.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?

A: Just that we’re here to help. By this point, when people are realizing they have a problem, they’re desperate, they need hope. We’re the hope. We’re judgment-free. All we’re trying to do, either with the family member or the individual back to breathing a little easier and getting the help to be healthy again.


Anyone looking for help or more information can call the area Resource Center at 315-413-4676 or go to NYproblemgambling.org or nyproblemgamblinghelp.org. Under the “Find Help” tap is a map of New York state. Select your region and see the different ways to contact a resource center and other helpful information.