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  • Henry Brinberg

Sports Betting: A Dangerous Game

According to USA Today, in the past three years, sports betting in the United States has quadrupled. Additionally, sports bettors are getting younger, people with lower incomes are betting more, and more people risk addiction.

The first reason why sports betting has increased is that in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled to repeal a previous law which had banned sports betting in the United States. Following the decision, states were free to pass legislation legalizing sports betting. Today, twenty-nine states have live and legal sports betting, while a few others have legislation in the works. States have been legalizing sports betting because it produces revenue and hypothetically puts an end to illegal sports betting operations. With its legalization, sports betting was bound to grow.

COVID-19 and nationwide quarantine led to an increase in sports gambling. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, casinos closed, and Americans began to spend a lot of time at home. At the time, sports betting was legal in just 21 states. Americans came to realize that with just a few clicks on their smartphones, they could easily place a wager on a sports game. Thus, in 2020, sports betting in the United States generated $1.5 billion in revenue, a 69% increase from 2019.

Sports betting has also increased because it is more accessible than it ever has been before. Online platforms have created endless opportunities for bets and offer convenience and privacy. As of February 2021, 45% of sports betting existed online, according to Forbes. Online gambling is also available at any time, which makes it easier to place more bets.

There are three online platforms which handle most of the sports betting in the United States. Leading the pack is Fanduel, with DraftKings and BetMGM occupying the next slots. It is estimated that sports betting companies like these will spend between $500 million and a billion advertising on NFL football games this season. The companies also advertise all over social media, portraying sports betting as a fun way to watch sports and socialize. These advertisements often draw people in by offering “risk-free” bets, where you can only win money -- there is no risk of losing it. Once people sign up and win their first bet, they often become hooked and keep betting. When they lose, they quickly place more bets to try to make their money back.

“Gambling problems may increase as sports gambling grows explosively at the same time that mobile and online technologies evolve to create seemingly unlimited types of wagering opportunities.”

While sports betting can be a fun activity, it comes with a lot of problems, most notably, addiction. The National Council on Problem Gambling reported after an extensive review that “gambling problems may increase as sports gambling grows explosively at the same time that mobile and online technologies evolve to create seemingly unlimited types of wagering opportunities.” Sports bettors who use mobile devices are more likely to gamble problematically and get addicted.

Addiction is a terrible illness. One anonymous person interviewed by NBC News described how it happens, saying, “It’s astonishing how quickly things can spin out of control.” Sports betting is often described as the “hidden addiction,” because even though someone could be in a gambling-driven financial crisis, one may not be able to tell by looking at them.

Another problem is the audience that is drawn into sports betting. Right after the 2018 Supreme Court ruling, a study conducted by Morning Consult showed that future gamblers would be younger. At the time, the age range of 18-34 made up 30% of the people who had gambled in the past, but 38% of people in that same age range planned to gamble in the future.

The legalization and the growth of online sports betting led more young people to start gambling. This is at least somewhat troubling because younger people are more likely to show risky behaviors associated with their gambling. An example of this is the fact that younger gamblers tend to hold more accounts for gambling. A further issue is that gamblers have gotten poorer. 56% of people who planned on betting had an annual income of less than $50,000, which was not the case for bettors in the past.

Because of all of the negative effects of sports betting, some have called for change. Jeff Bell of Forbes wants the public to be educated about the dangers of sports betting. He also thinks that treatment should be provided for those who face addiction, which could possibly come from a tax on sports betting revenues.

An alternative would be to regulate the heavy amount of advertisement that online casinos show during sports games and on social media. Not surprisingly, these advertisements do not tend to address the dangers associated with sports betting, and they create a problem for child viewers. It is very easy to get involved with sports betting and quickly develop an issue, which is why it is important to understand the risks associated with it.


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