"[Online gambling] has increased. People are left to their own devices during the lockdown, and many people have been engaging in technology and different things that they never did before to pass the time of day," said Arlene Simon, Executive Director of the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems. "So there has been an explosion in popularity of online gaming and gambling."
It's even more problematic for a generation raised among a digital landscape.
"Particularly among the younger folk and the millennials, these are people who really know how to access online activities, and are more comfortable doing things online, than they are going into, say, a casino or a poker game or something of that nature," she said. "And so we are finding a lot in the younger age groups that are having this problem."
Simon said the internet has made it easier than ever for addicts to find their fix, while maximizing what makes the addiction so appealing to reel the vulnerable in even further.
"The speed of it; for somebody who is interested in gambling, speed is a strong factor. They don't have to wait to get resolved," she said to Peter MacArthur on WDEL's DelAWARE. "Online gambling is very quick. It's the same reason people buy scratch-off tickets, because they get an instantaneous result. And with online gaming, it's so easy. If you have a credit card or a debit card, you use that and you don't even think about how much money you're spending or how much you're putting on there, oftentimes until it's too late."
That means every win--and even more frequently, every loss--will provide that dopamine hit even more quickly, which is what those addicted to gambling are chasing.
"People who have a gambling problem, it's about chasing," Simon said. "They're chasing the win. They're even chasing the losses. When they lose, they think, 'Oh, well, the next time I'm going to win.' So that's really the crux of someone who has a gambling problem."
Judging those who are addicted as people making a choice is a flawed way of thinking, Simon said, and she called for compassion to help reduce stigmatization of those who need more help.
"Many people, of course, think that gambling is a moral failure, but they don't realize that it is an actual brain disease," she said. "The portion of the brain that controls addictions--drug addiction, alcoholism--it is same with gambling. And it's been proven. Gambling, the gambling addiction, is now an actual addiction in the DSM-5, which is the the manual that mental health providers and hospitals use, and it has been proven to be a true addiction because it triggers the areas of the brain that have the control over addictive behaviors."
Those who need assistance from the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems should call 1.800.850.8888 or visit DEProblemGambling.org.
"That first step is the hardest one to take," Simon said. "We have a 24/7 hotline where, if someone has a problem, they call in a live person, no recording. They'll get a live person, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it's all free and very confidential. You don't have to worry about anybody finding out, or your name being in a report, or something of that nature."