Have you ever wondered why Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM) takes place in March? Originally a week-long event, PGAM was established by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) to raise awareness about gambling addiction during the NCAA March Madness tournament. The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG) is one of more than 30 State Affiliates of the NCPG that dedicates the month of March to spreading the word about disordered gambling, a psychiatric condition defined by the American Psychiatric Association.
What is “March Madness”?
Each March, millions of sports fans are swept into the mayhem known as March Madness. Over the course of three short weeks, the top 64 NCAA men and women college basketball teams compete in a single-elimination tournament composed of over 63 total games with hopes of bringing the National Championship title home to their campus. Fans are encouraged to complete a “tournament bracket” where they pick which teams they believe will advance from each round to compete in the Final Four. Sharing bracket selections among friends and colleagues has become a yearly tradition for many fans, even though sports betting is still illegal in an overwhelming majority of states.
Leading up to the 2018 tournament, it was estimated that nearly $10 billion was to be wagered on the men’s tournament alone, with only three percent of bets placed legally.1 The estimation of unlawful bets is striking when considering that sports wagering was only permitted in the state of Nevada in March 2018. However, in May 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA, also known as the “Bradley Act”) was unconstitutional, leaving the decision to allow or prohibit sports wagering to individual states. Since the ruling, Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia have voted to legalize full-scale sports betting. Industry trackers predict at least 25 states will have legalized sports wagering, catapulting the U.S. to become the largest sports betting market, surpassing both the U.K. and China.2 As of this writing, Florida has not yet moved to legalize sports betting.
Remember to be Respectful
While the tournament is enjoyed by millions of college basketball fans nationwide, March Madness can be a difficult time for many individuals who are struggling with a gambling addiction. Similarly, given the widespread attention associated with the annual event, for many in recovery for disordered gambling, the games can serve as a trigger for relapse. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that recovery from a gambling addiction is different for everyone. For example, in some cases, compulsive gamblers recovering from sports wagering are unable to watch the games. In consideration of these differences, keep in mind that if someone you know indicates they are not following the tournament this year, avoid pressuring the individual for an explanation. It is possible they are struggling with a gambling problem or simply do not have an interest in basketball. Regardless of why an individual chooses to opt out, it’s important to respect the boundaries of others. Offer alternative activities and support for those who may be struggling, such as hosting a movie night or accompanying a friend to a support group. Additionally, limiting workplace conversations about March Madness can further help to avoid an uncomfortable situation for coworkers who prefer not to disclose their gambling addiction.
Dedicate March to PGAM!
Another great way to offer support for individuals struggling with disordered gambling is to dedicate March to spreading awareness of the “hidden addiction”. PGAM officially kicks off on March 1st, and the FCCG is conducting a statewide campaign: Play it Safe: So the Game Doesn’t Take Control of You. This year’s campaign will draw connections between various forms of recreational games, including online video games and traditional forms of gambling. For more information, materials, and ways to become involved, visit problemgamblingawarenessmonth.org or call 888-ADMIT-IT today.
If you or someone you know has a problem with gambling or are negatively impacted by a loved one’s gambling, know that help and hope are available. Contact the FCCG’s statewide 24/7, Confidential, and Multilingual Problem Gambling HelpLine at 888-ADMIT-IT (236-4848) to get connected to a wide range of resources, including free treatment for Florida residents.
1. “97% Of Expected $10 Billion Wagered on March Madness to Be Bet Illegally.” American Gaming, The American Gaming Association, 12 Mar. 2018, www.americangaming.org/new/97-of-expected-10-billion-wagered-on-march-madness-to-be-bet-illegally/.
2. Kilsby, James, et al. U.S. Sports Betting Tracker . GamblingCompliance, 2019, pp. 1–3, U.S. Sports Betting Tracker.