October 11, 2022 | San Jose Mercury News

Lembke: Californians don’t need another addiction crisis. Reject Prop. 27

I once treated a young physician who described to me how, while in medical school, he became addicted to online sports betting. It began with the occasional recreational bet on a professional sports team, progressed to daily betting, and became problematic when online gambling became available.

He eventually gambled away the trust fund he had inherited to pay for medical school. Too ashamed to tell his parents, he took out a medical school loan to replace the money he had lost. He gambled that away too.

One of the most important risk factors for addiction is simple access. If you live in a neighborhood where drugs are sold on the street corner, you’re more likely to try that drug and to get addicted to it. In the past 30 years, increased access to digital drugs such as gambling, gaming, shopping, pornography and social media, has led to rising rates of behavioral addictions all over the world. Behavioral addictions are addictions to behaviors rather than substances. The definition of addiction is the continued, compulsive use of a substance or a behavior despite harm to self and/or others.

These digital drugs are engineered to be addictive, and unfortunately they’re working exactly as intended. Now, I regularly see patients with severe and life-threatening addictions to digital drugs.

Which brings me to Proposition 27.

Proposition 27 would legalize online and mobile sports gambling across California — essentially turning every cell phone into a 24/7, portable casino and thereby increasing the rates of gambling addiction across the state.

This isn’t theoretical.

Other states that have legalized online sports betting have seen large increases in calls to their problem gambling hotlines: a 500% increase in New Jersey, a 285% spike in Pennsylvania, and a 203% increase in Connecticut.

What’s worse, the online gambling corporations bankrolling Prop. 27 intentionally undermine the efforts of addicted gamblers seeking recovery. They bombard vulnerable people with hundreds of promotional messages, which in themselves serve as a trigger for relapse. They also ignore self-exclusion lists.

One of the ways people with gambling addiction get into recovery is to voluntarily put themselves on a self-exclusion list, disallowing them from entering casinos or placing bets on online betting sites. BetMGM, FanDuel and Betfair Interactive, all proponents of Prop. 27, have been fined tens of thousands of dollars for allowing self-excluded bettors to create accounts and receive promotional mailings. In other words, these corporations prey on the most vulnerable.

Prop. 27 would also put youth at risk. Prop. 27 proposes to restrict online sports betting to those who are 21 years of age or older but lacks critical safeguards to prevent underage gambling. Data show that youth are more vulnerable and especially attracted to the addictive potential of online gambling.

Poorly regulated offshore websites enable gambling online today.

Californians deserve sensible, comprehensive policies related to digital drugs such as online gambling that consider the substantial costs to individual and public health, especially the risk of addiction. But Prop. 27 does not dedicate a single penny of the billions generated from online gambling to support addiction-recovery programs.

Relying on a proposition funded and promoted by the very online gambling corporations who stand to profit off this digital drug is not good-sense policy for the state of California.

Every day, Californians see first-hand the misfortunes created by addiction — financial ruin, broken families, increased crime, mental health issues and homelessness.

The last thing Californians need is another addiction crisis.

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