A Sports Gambling Disaster May Loom

What addiction experts feared may be coming to pass
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 18, 2023 6:30 AM CST
There's Been a Quiet, Scary Rise in Sports Gambling
   (Getty Images / michaelquirk)

What addiction experts feared may be coming to pass. In 2018, the Supreme Court made sports betting a state-by-state decision, and the expected explosion in legal sports betting has followed. Some 33 states and the District of Columbia now allow Americans to bet on live games, something that was illegal in the bulk of the country just five years ago. That open access has found a friend—or foe, depending on your perspective—in the coinciding surge in advertising and technology that enables one-click betting from the comforts of home. It's created a massive industry seemingly overnight: The Hill reports the first 11 months of 2022 saw $83 billion in sports bets placed, with betting firms keeping $6.6 billion of that. That latter figure is up 15 times since 2018. More:

  • A dangerous ease. Lia Nower, the head of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University, tells the Hill there's a more secretive nature to this addiction that's problematic. "If I'm drunk or high, at some point my family is going to figure it out. With gambling, I can be sitting with my kids, watching cartoons, and gambling away my house, my car, everything I own, on my mobile phone. How would you know?"
  • A false edge. In September, the Washington Post pointed out one difference between sports betting and the traditional casino and cards wagering: "People who bet on sports often believe they have an edge because they follow the teams." Indeed, one study found a stronger link between sports betting "and cognitive distortions related to illusion of control, probability control and interpretive control" as compared to non-sports betting.
  • What NJ is finding. New Jersey is currently the only state that requires annual evaluations of the connection between online/sports gambling and problem gambling, which are conducted by the aforementioned Rutgers center. In the Conversation, Nower writes of the latest findings. Here's one: Roughly 5% of all sports bettors spent almost 70% of the money. "That means the people losing the most money are the most essential to operator profits," she writes.
  • The feds. Unlike with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, the federal government doesn't regulate the gambling industry—that's left to the states. But the New York Times calls them "not disinterested parties"; since they collect taxes on gambling, the more betting, the more money for them. And CNN points out that while there is federal funding for alcohol, tobacco, and drug addiction treatment and research, there isn't for gambling.
  • Sneaky techniques. Offers of free money, insured bets, and no-lose propositions reeled in some of the people the Times spoke with who developed issues. The Times says some gambling sites offer "risk-free bets," where losers can get their money refunded. The caveat is that money can only be applied to new bets. The paper also cites a bet offered in Michigan by FanDuel last year: that the Detroit Pistons wouldn't lose to the Los Angeles Lakers by more than 159 points. It cost FanDuel $2 million, but it signed up 47,000 new bettors in the process.
(More gambling stories.)

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