Online gambling was legalized in New York a little over a year ago and since then, hundreds of millions of dollars were raked in as revenue.
“Right now, I'm into hockey obviously because you can't root for the Bills,” said Patrick Harris, an online sports gambler.
For Harris, online sports betting is a hobby just like any other. He was excited when it got legalized in New York.
“It's a way to keep invested in the game even if the game is not something to stay invested in,” laughed Harris.
But Harris makes sure not to go overboard.
“At some point, I'm sure it'll be a loss, but really, it's just being smart,” he explained.
That’s not the route Jeffrey Wierzbicki, team leader of the Western New York Problem Gambling Resource Center, has seen people go down though.
“In 2022, New Yorkers wagered $16.3 billion and lost close to $4 million a day,” Wierzbicki said.
Calls to New York’s Problem Gambling Resource Center doubled in 2022.
“We've never seen this type of an increase when it came to one gambling activity being legalized in New York state,” Wierzbicki said.
It’s also a new demographic that’s seeing issues.
“We're seeing a targeted audience being college-age students. That 18- 35 demographic are being severely impacted,” he said.
Incentives offering essentially “free money,” plus the ease of access, create the perfect storm.
“They're being attracted to the idea of this low effort, high excitement reward, and it's become a real problem for younger people right now,” explained Wierzbicki.
It's a system that can suck you in.
“Gambling is triggering those same receptors in the brain that activate the dopamine the same way that drugs do,” Wierzbicki said.
He wants people to reach out before they hit rock bottom.
“That's always a fear for people...making that first call," Wierzbicki said. "People might think I don't have a gambling addiction. But if it's a problem, it's a problem, and that's what we're here for.”
“It's like the lottery," said Harris. "You think it's going to be you, but you just got to stay honest with it.”
Keeping strict limits is what works for him. Only depositing or keeping a certain amount available, restricting time spent on the apps, and responsibility within his friend group.
“I've seen too many people win a lot of money and then spend it all trying to double it and then they're back where they started,” Harris explained.
He’s on a winning streak, but he knows it could always end.
“They say the house always wins,” Harris laughed.
He’s making sure if that happens, there’s still something left in his pocket.
Wierzbicki says only $6 million is earmarked for Problem Gambling services. He hopes to see that amount increase to help deal with the problem they're seeing before it gets too out of hand.