Penn State Research Focuses on Problem Gambling in Pennsylvania

Penn State Research Focuses on Problem Gambling in Pennsylvania
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

As the online gaming industry matures and all parties associated with the industry continue to come to grips with problem gambling behaviors, a key component that has been sparse in addressing that difficult task is solid research.

In Pennsylvania, which is one of just six states that has the full range of interactive gaming (also referred to as online gambling), a yearly assessment has been mandated to take a snapshot of where online gambling behaviors stand within the commonwealth.

The second annual report, for 2022, was released recently. The work is confined to one jurisdiction — namely a study of PA online casino habits — but it’s a building block to better understand who is participating in online gambling, their behaviors and their motivations.

What the PA Report Studied

The report, which was prepared by Penn State University researchers, explained that during the 2021/2022 fiscal period there were 19 statewide iGaming operators and 14 online Pennsylvania sports betting locations. They generated more than $1.2 billion in revenue from iGaming (including slots, table games and poker); more than $267 million in revenue from online sports betting, and over $27 million from fantasy sports (though the fantasy sports total included offline and online).

The report produced a thumbnail profile of the “typical online gambler”.

That is a male in his mid to late 30s, who has a college degree, is employed and making more than $50,000 a year. He’s married, white and living in southwest Pennsylvania; his preferred format is online PA sportsbook apps, and he participates mainly for enjoyment.

However, that singular profile only begins to tell the story of Pennsylvania online gamblers and of the state’s gamblers, in general.

Some of Penn State Research’s Findings

More than one in 10 Pennsylvanians, about 11%, engaged in online gambling. The rate of participation at online PA casino apps remained steady from the first year of the study. In the year leading up to the 2022 study, 67.5% of Pennsylvania adults engaged in in-person (or offline) gambling.

Among online gamblers, sports betting was the favorite format. Of gamblers who wagered online, 54% did sports wagering.

That was followed by Pennsylvania online slots, which was 33.3%, and online fantasy sports, at almost 32%. The rest of the legal online formats were: Online table games (20.8%), iLottery (20.4%), and online poker (15.6%). Participation in offshore gambling was: Casino (8.6%), poker (3.6%) and sports (2.3%).

A more comprehensive picture of Pennsylvania’s online gambler demographic show that men were 66.1% of the online players, women were 31.4%, and 2.5% identified as other. (By comparison, offline gamblers were more even in gender, as 51.5% were men).

The race and ethnic breakdown for online gamblers: White 72.9%, Black/African American 24.2%, and Asian 5.1%.

Other statistics were that 62.6% were employed and 43.5% were married or living with a partner. About 47% had a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree. Annual income for almost 38% of online gamblers was in the $35,000-$99,999 range.

Developing An Understanding Is Critical

Developing an understanding of problem gambling, especially as it applies to online gaming, is part of the rationale for the study.

To that end, the 2022 Penn State gambling study revealed that more than one in three people who have gambled online in the preceding 12 months to the study had experienced at least one problem with their gambling. Among the problems were making attempts to cut down, control, or stop gambling.

The profile of the typical gambler experiencing at least one problem with online gambling mirrored the typical online gambler overall. It was a male (58.7%), average age 38.32, who was typically employed and married/living with a partner.

As a result of that data, the study concludes that one implication is that messaging addressing problem gambling be tailored to a certain degree to the particular male audience in the “typical” demographic, meaning men in their 30s to 40s.

Suggestions Coming From Gambling Study

As one strategy, the report suggests that responsible gaming advertisements, instead of banner ads and pop-ups, could be provided “more like television advertisements played before and during online videos.”

In February, BetMGM Pennsylvania Sportsbook was among those joining a campaign to increase responsible gaming messages and their prominence. The operator teamed with GameSense, an industry-leading program concentrating on communicating with gamblers about how to wager responsibly. 

Of course, it would be a mistake to exclusively zero in on just one set of gamblers in dealing with dysfunctional gambling. While fewer women than men are faced with problem gambling, according to some research, females also experience the challenge. And while a certain age group is also identified as a demographic plurality, gamblers both much younger and much older also can fall into problem gambling behaviors.

Still, the type of information being pulled together by the Penn State research is essential in creating baseline understandings of problem gambling and, in this case, of problem gambling as it occurs among online gaming participants.

However, more is needed.

If you have a gambling problem or know somebody who does, contact 1-800-GAMBLER.



A longtime reporter and editor who began writing on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened, Bill covered the world Series of Poker and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for a decade.

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