The United States is in a period of rapid expansion of legal gambling opportunities, largely due to the 2018 repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which had previously outlawed sports betting in most of the U.S. Previous research suggests that as gambling availability expands, we can reasonably expect an increase in Gambling Disorder. Due to a lack of attention in longitudinal survey research, the research community is poorly positioned to capture changes in the prevalence of Gambling Disorder in the US. One possible solution is to look at the growth of communities of people looking for support related to their gambling before and after periods of significant gambling expansion. We studied an online community of self-identified problem gamblers on a popular message board website (redit.com) to test two hypotheses relate to the issues stated above.
H1: That there will be a significant increase in problem gambling message board activity following the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
H2: That there will be a qualitative change in the discussion of sports betting on the message board following the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
The current study looks at participation on a popular message board website (reddit.com) to see if recent expansions of sports betting correspond with the growth of a mutual support group. Data for the study included the number of weekly posts on the r/problemgambling message board from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2020. Interrupted Time Series Analysis were applied to these data using the introduction of online sports betting in the US outside of Nevada as the intervention point. Thematic analyses of forum post titles (17041 titles) and full posts drawn from 75 randomly selected days for the data collection period (558 posts) were conducted to investigate changes in the discussion of sports and sports betting following the interruption date.
Results show that, after the intervention, there was a significant immediate increase and sustained increase in the rate of posts on r/problemgambling. Thematic analysis revealed message board contributors increased discussion of American professional sports after the interruption date. Most notably, major American sporting events were identified as significant threats to maintaining sobriety.
Conclusions and implications
The growth of self-organizing online communities offers an opportunity to increase help-seeking for people experiencing harm related to their gambling participation. Monitoring these communities can also serve as an early indication of the impacts of major policy changes and global events on gambling behaviors. Message boards offer an easily accessible source of information on the lived experiences of those experiencing issues related to gambling, making them valuable to mental health clinicians and practitioners.