Susan Sheridan Tucker was in the first class of Wall Street traders whose broker's exam covered options back in 1981.
With options, investors have the right but not the obligation to buy or sell shares at a set price and by a specific date. Options often draw comparisons to a bet that a stock will fall or rise.
"I remember raising my hand to the instructor and saying, 'This just seems like gambling to me," Sheridan Tucker said. "And he said, 'Exactly. It's not investing. It's gambling.'"
Sheridan Tucker never traded options, but gambling did become her focus as executive director of the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling and the recently elected president of the National Council on Problem Gambling's board of directors.
Sheridan Tucker said her journey to national leadership on problem gambling "has not been a linear path." She began working on Wall Street to earn money to finish college and earned her broker's license, but trading "was not where [her] soul was."
Social justice, community building and advocacy are, however, so she volunteered at homeless shelters in New York City and worked on housing as a planning consultant after acquiring a master's in urban planning from Hunter College. She previously was executive director of the League of Women Voters in Minnesota, among other roles in nonprofit management.
She joined the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling five years ago, having worked in nonprofit management since she and her husband moved from New York in the early 1990s. Sheridan Tucker sought a national leadership role to contribute at that level and be among the first to know of developments in addressing problem gambling.
With Minnesota lawmakers set to take another run at legalizing sports betting next year, Sheridan Tucker is raising concerns about what that might mean for gamblers and those around them.
The Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling and the National Council on Problem Gambling are neutral on gambling, Sheridan Tucker said. They don't think that gambling is wrong, but in taking a consumer-protection approach to the issue, they want operators and licensees to make sure gamblers aren't engaging in betting that exceeds their finances.
Sports bettors are notorious, Sheridan Tucker said, for thinking they can beat the system because they know the players and their statistics.
"Often, they will win a bet, no doubt," she said. "But over the course of time, the operators are going to win."
If sports betting does become legal in Minnesota, Sheridan Tucker wants lawmakers to make gambling-prevention education available in middle and high schools. She also wants operators to build responsible gaming tools into electronic sports betting.
Sheridan Tucker also wants limits on advertising of sports betting to restrict when and where those messages appear.
"If you live in a state where sports betting has been legalized, you're being inundated 24/7 with ads. It's even creeping in to Minnesota as you're watching a national game," she said. "All those ads, believe it or not, do influence people."
Further, she would like access to aggregated data from operators on what gamblers are playing, how long they play, the kinds of bets they place and whether they're asking for credit or using credit cards. Gamblers in Minnesota now can place bets through online offshore accounts, which Sheridan Tucker said go unregulated. The Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling can connect people to a smartphone app that blocks more than 75,000 gambling sites.
"With sports betting being now primarily implemented on a phone or electronically, that makes it far more susceptible to people taking far more risks than they would if they physically had to go off to a window to place their bet," Sheridan Tucker said. "There's some friction in that, which doesn't exist when they're on the phone."
Problem gambling, defined as an addiction in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, has an effect on the brain that's similar to that of substance addiction, Sheridan Tucker said.
Some 162,000 adults in Minnesota are at-risk gamblers, and 56,000 are problem gamblers, according to a 2020 study Wilder Research did for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Each gambler affects eight other people, from family and community members to employers and employees, Sheridan Tucker said. Those 250,000-plus gamblers would affect 2 million other people or about half the state's population.
Treatment is available at no cost, Sheridan Tucker said. But the state Human Services Department has contracted with only 17 providers qualified to counsel on gambling. The national council wants half of the federal sports gambling excise tax, which last year topped $150 million, directed to gambling addiction and research, which now receive no federal money.
While she's now an expert, Sheridan Tucker didn't know much about gambling before she worked for the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling.
"I don't think people understand how devastating this can be," she said. "But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are lots and lots of people who recover from this addiction."
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.