Total Pa. gambling revenue was down in 2020, but problem gambling? That’s harder to say


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The COVID-19 pandemic devastated Pennsylvania’s casinos. So you might think one ancillary bright spot, to go along with that economic pain, would be a reduction in gambling problems. But that’s not necessarily the case, leaders said on the first day of Problem Gambling Awareness Month, which takes place every March.

The theme this year? “Awareness plus action,” which, said Pa. Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Jen Smith, “really couldn’t be more appropriate for Pennsylvania, as legalized gambling expands throughout the commonwealth and as the pandemic continues to bring about challenges resulting from prolonged isolation.”

Could it be that the people who gambled less were — disproportionately — casual gamblers who found it easiest to slow down when their favorite venues closed? Precise figures to answer that question would be difficult to generate.

But, even though for a time, “there were no casinos to visit [and] very limited sporting events to wager on,” said Josh Ercole, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania, “we saw a pretty dramatic shift and an uptick in numbers with regard to folks that were accepting that ‘i-gaming,’ or internet gambling, was causing the most problems for them.”

Smith, of the Deparment of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), named four signs of problem gambling:

  • Develop strange relationships with loved ones
  • Borrowing money to gamble
  • Gambling to receive a “high”
  • Missing work or school

If you think you or someone you know might be suffering, call 1-800-GAMBLER or visit

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