Indiana Gaming Commission considers legalizing internet casino gaming, some fear a rise in youth gambling addictions
This past week, the Indiana Gaming Commission released a 103-page study analyzing internet casino gaming, or iGaming, and considering its legalization within the state. IGaming includes the operation of digital versions of slot machines, table games and other typical casino games through internet channels and apps on mobile devices and personal computers.
The study was conducted by Spectrum Gaming Group, a non-partisan consultancy specializing in economics, regulation and legalized gambling policy, on behalf of the statewide gaming commission. The report states that if Indiana were to legalize iGaming, its introduction would be a “relatively smooth process” and has the potential to earn between $341 million and $943 million in taxes.
Despite it being economically beneficial and considered a smooth process, there are still fears of the initiative promoting gambling addictions, especially in younger populations.
Christina Gray, executive director of the Indiana Council on Problem Gambling, said that unlike more traditional forms of gambling, the main demographic of online sports gamblers are young adults, which could be an indicator of potential trends in iGaming.
“The largest number of people that gamble on sports betting are males between the ages of 18 and 34,” Gray said. “We’ve seen children as young as 12 with gambling issues.”
Gray said in addition to younger people being more inclined to bet on digital sports, addictive behaviors surrounding video game usage can be an important reflector of how iGaming could impact youth. A 2016 American Psychiatric Association survey of 19,000 internet users found that one in three users reported at least one symptom of gaming disorders.
“People don’t think about the loot boxes, skins and those kinds of things,” Gray said. “You’re purchasing something, and you don’t know what you’re getting. So that also can be a form of gambling.”
The report which briefly mentions that iGaming is likely to have an appeal to tech-savvy youth, based much of its findings on data from other states that have already legalized internet gambling. As of 2022, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have legalized internet gambling.
The gaming commission’s report also proposed three different models that could be adopted to legalize internet gambling. The first method would make iGaming available to all gaming companies in the state. The second method would limit iGaming licenses to a state’s casinos. The third method proposed would allow third-party gaming companies to offer iGaming licensing agreements with casinos in the state.
Digital gambling, like that studied in the report, is not new in Indiana. In fall 2019, Indiana approved online sports wagering, as well as sports wagering for in-person casinos and facilities, adopting a similar hybrid model to the one proposed in the study.
Matt Bell, president and CEO of the Casino Association of Indiana, said he advocates for a hybrid model of iGaming, according to the recent study.
“Our state has experience with a hybrid model. Our operators have experience with a hybrid model,” Bell said. “I think there would be a level of comfort with that, from an industry perspective.”
IU freshman Grace Leibowitz said that college students could end up viewing iGaming as a fun activity and risk developing bad habits instead of putting their focus and energy into schoolwork.
“Allowing people to have access 24/7 is really risky when we know how there can be bad side effects like addiction,” Leibowitz said. “People can’t control urges to gamble. If they have such immediate access, it could cause issues for their futures potentially.”
IU junior Ronnie Lewis said she would not support the legalization, and that legalizing iGaming would negatively impact students.
“I’ve just seen a lot of ways that people use money online and I think that it's an easy way for people to get scammed,” Lewis said. “The risks of people creating false versions of these online games concerns me, and I think that there would be a lot of legal issues that would come up.”
Lewis also voiced concerns over the lack of security measures to prevent false identities and fraud on the internet casino gambling sites, such as the ability to falsify one's age. In Indiana, 18-year-olds can participate in the lottery, charitable gambling such as bingo or raffles and pari-mutuel horse betting, often referred to as pool betting. An individual must be 21 years old to participate in casino or slot machine gambling.
“People lie about their age a lot online,” Lewis said. “You see it with things like dating apps and social media. I think that it’s important to note that you could end up with teenagers or even kids younger than that who just say that they’re 21.”
According to the National Center for Responsible Gaming, during 2010 approximately 75% of college students had gambled either legally or illegally within the previous year, and it is estimated 6% of college students have a gambling problem. In addition to resources through Indiana University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, the Indiana Problem Gambling Awareness Program provides information about treatment, research and support programs for students.
In addition to increasing funding for problem gambling resources in the state, Gray said an important step to protect students from negative gambling habits is to introduce education initiatives at both the high school and college level. Gray pointed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s new gambling harm education program in partnership with EPIC Risk Management as a good example. This program is available on all NCAA campuses, providing problem gambling educational workshops, seminars and virtual resources for student-athletes, coaches, administrators, game officials and health care and support personnel.
“(Gambling) is just like any other addiction and it's out there and the more we legalize gambling in Indiana the more it can affect everyone,” Gray said. “So just to help a counselor be aware of problem gambling and to have resources and information about problem gambling on the campus for those who feel that they may have an issue would be a great thing.”