California Ranks No. 11 Among Most Gambling Addicted States

With the gambling industry bringing in a record $66.5 billion in revenue last year, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2024’s Most Gambling-Addicted States to highlight where this dangerous addiction is most prevalent.

WalletHub compared the 50 states across 20 key metrics. The data set ranges from the presence of illegal gambling operations to lottery sales per capita to the share of adults with gambling disorders.

Gambling Addiction in California (1=Most Addicted, 25=Avg.):

Overall Rank: 11th

  • 24th – Casinos per Capita
  • 24th – Gaming Machines per Capita
  • 27th – Lottery Sales per Capita
  • 32nd – % of Adults with Gambling Disorders
  • 8th – Gambling-Related Arrests per Capita
  • 1st – Legality of Daily Fantasy Sports
  • 50th – Legality of Sports Gambling
How Addicted to Gambling is California?

Cassandra Happe

“Gambling addictions can destroy lives the same way that alcohol and drug addictions can, said Cassandra Happe, WalletHub analyst. “While some people may be able to enjoy casual gambling from time to time, others need to avoid temptation altogether. People with a gambling addiction may find it helpful to live in states where places to gamble are less prevalent and laws against betting are stricter.”

Nevada is the most gambling-addicted state, ranking first when it comes to both casinos per capita and gaming machines per capita. In addition, around 2.7% of adults in Nevada have gambling disorders, one of the highest percentages in the country, and the state has the highest gambling revenues. Nevada allows retail and convenience stores to have electronic gambling machines for customers to play, and it has legalized both sports betting and gambling on horse races.

Expert Commentary

Should sports betting be legal in all states? What are the pros and cons?

“I think each state needs to decide what is right for them. If sports betting is allowed, it makes sense that some portion of funds could be set aside for helping people with gambling addiction treatment. I would hope that each state would carefully consider whether sports betting is being used primarily recreationally, or if it is being used primarily as a means of escapism, and what sort of risks and harms arise in those two different frames.”
— Caro (Caroline) A. Murphy – Visiting Associate Teaching Professor, Northeastern University

“It perhaps makes little sense to have sports gambling legal in some states but not others, but the issue is incredibly tricky. On the one hand, sports gambling is taxed in most places, which can generate much-needed revenue for cash-strapped states. On the other hand, this has to be balanced with the economic and social costs of gambling addiction. Much of the experience provided by gambling companies is designed to facilitate impulsive gambling behavior, though not one company would admit it. Also, it is not as easy as simply making sports gambling legal. States that allow it currently vary in terms of what sports people can gamble on (gambling on college sports is allowed in some states, not others), how customers can bet (betting from your phone is not allowed everywhere), and so on. In some cases, sports gambling can only be legalized by changing a state’s constitution. A lot of things would have to be worked out for sure.”
— Cory Hillman, Ph.D. – Assistant Professor, Ashland University

What are the signs someone is addicted to gambling? What should friends and family do to help?

“Gambling disorders result when an individual’s gambling starts to have substantial negative impacts on their lives. This can have a financial impact, but it can also be social (e.g., marital problems), vocational (missing work), legal, and others. We often think of people developing gambling problems when they become preoccupied with their gambling to the detriment of other important things in their lives. Often these individuals need to bet more and more money to feel the excitement of gambling, are frustrated when they cannot gamble, seek bailouts from others, and chase their losses by spending more money gambling to win them back. Friends and family can try to support the individual with the gambling problem by offering individual counseling. It is generally not a good idea to bail out the individual financially. Rather, encouraging the person to go to counseling is best. The national gambling helpline is 1-800-GAMBLER, and they can link people up with therapists in most states.”
— David M. Ledgerwood, Ph.D. – Professor and Director, Nicotine and Tobacco Research Division, Wayne State School of Medicine

“Many signs could indicate an addiction, such as becoming preoccupied with the thought of gambling throughout the day, a pattern of betting on sports you do not care about, and developing the need to wager larger amounts of money to experience the same ‘gambling thrill’ over time. Other signs include chasing gambling losses through larger bets, betting money you cannot afford to lose, lying to family and friends about the extent of your gambling, relational problems due to gambling, and resorting to theft/fraud to finance one’s gambling habits. Sports bettors are approximately five times more likely to become addicted compared to people who gamble in other ways.”
— Cory Hillman, Ph.D. – Assistant Professor, Ashland University

On balance, are state lotteries a good idea? Is there a way to make them less regressive?

“I think the research has shown pretty conclusively that even winners of lotteries often end up in bad situations due to the sudden windfall. That said, I do not believe in limiting someone’s agency but rather educating them about the risks and consequences of their choices. For example, we can think more creatively about how we reach people in vulnerable situations. Could there be a way that lottery players are given education about the risks and impacts? Could lottery winners be given access to lawyers and mental health professionals who could aid them in transitioning into their winnings? Could people who spend over a certain percentage of their income be flagged as people who might benefit from mental health support and be offered those resources for free?”
— Caro (Caroline) A. Murphy – Visiting Associate Teaching Professor, Northeastern University

“State lotteries are fine and do generate additional sources of revenue for states. In their current state, lotteries are significantly less likely to produce gambling addicts. The reasons are simple: (1) no one really expects to win, which is not the case with sports gambling, and (2) hardly anyone ever actually wins. Gambling addiction develops with actual ‘wins’ that lead people to believe their odds are perhaps better than what they actually are. State lotteries are not set up to do this. As a matter of fact, I have never heard of someone being labeled a ‘lottery addict,’ though they may exist, though I imagine it would be too small of a number to qualify as a social problem.”
— Cory Hillman, Ph.D. – Assistant Professor, Ashland University


Image Sources

  • Cassandra Happe: WalletHub
  • Gambling: Pixabay