Football’s adoption of sports betting is making a bad situation worse

Shaquille O’Neal wants you to play. Just like Peyton Manning, Terry Bradshaw, the NFL, NBA and MLB. Four years into a nationwide betting boom, addiction researchers are seeing signs that high-income young men face increased risks of gambling problems.

And it’s no coincidence that you see a lot of sports betting ads on your TV screen.

Triggered by a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the law that had made sports betting illegal outside of Nevada, gambling now covers the sport in the United States, legal in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Five more states will join them soon, and two ballot initiatives await a vote Tuesday in California. Expected to grow to a $6 billion industry by 2023, sportsbook features ads for Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel. Limited to six per game by the NFL, these now advertise toilet breaks on football Sundays.

“It’s a hot topic, and we want to be careful in assessing what it means to suddenly have a lot more people betting on sports,” said clinical psychologist Shane Kraus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, co-author of the new JAMA. Network Open survey study finding that daily betting on fantasy sports and esports video games increases the risk of sports gambling problems among bettors. “There’s real potential for more problem gambling right now, but there’s also the potential for moral panic, which we don’t want.”

The survey of 2,800 people paints a picture of sports betting as a significant but niche concern nationally, with just 6.2% of the public saying they have bet on sports in the past year. Young, religious and high-income men were more likely to bet on sports. Symptoms of gambling problems – measured by questions suggesting harm to your family or your own life – were seen most strongly among those who bet daily on fantasy sports and esports.

It is estimated that approximately 1 in 50 Americans has a severe to moderate gambling problem. The new study confirms recent surveys by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), which found that problem sports gambling was a particular risk among high-income, college-educated young men, said Keith Whyte, executive director of the band. These men are about twice as likely as high school graduates to bet on sports, Whyte said.

“Sports bettors, right now, are quite different from other gamblers,” Whyte said. “I don’t think we’ve done a good job of trying to reach this new population of high-risk sports betting.”

Other forms of gambling, from casinos to lottery, more often attract less educated and low-income bettors, he added. The average gamer might bet with friends more often in these settings, unlike the new type of sports gamer, placing bets on their phone. Horse racing is an exception to the rule of sports betting, betting that relies on the most traditional player.

One hypothesis as to why better-educated men might gamble more on games is that the data-driven emphasis of modern sports betting, fostered by fantasy football leagues’ fascination with statistics, attracts those who are trained to have a vision. analytics at university. These same young men are more likely to live their lives on their mobile phones, where new gambling apps reside, with a bet always just a click away.

“Now they have the ability to go online and do everything electronically, they don’t have to travel, and they can get all the data they want,” said addiction expert Ken Winters, senior scientist at the Oregon Research Institute, a psychology research institute based in Springfield, Oregon. “They combine their interest in the sport with their perceived knowledge and skills with numbers. This is a wonderful recipe for sports betting to grow and become more popular.

Kraus is more cautious, noting that while more educated men were more likely to bet on sports in his group’s study, problem gambling was found more often among those with less education. Better educated men might have more money to spend on betting, but also cut their losses more easily. “We really need to follow these men for the next two to three years to see what happens to them to understand what’s going on here,” he said.

Cultural change

NCPG surveys show an increase in sports betting since 2018, when states began embracing sports betting legalization and tax revenue. While sports betting was once taboo – but widespread – decades ago, around 4 in 5 people now approve of it, Whyte said: “It’s one of the biggest cultural shifts, but perhaps least studied, or least understood, in America, and we’re on the cutting edge now.

The NFL (which earned $17 billion in revenue last year) announced a $6.2 million initiative with the NCPG last year urging fans to set limits on their bets. Ads for a problem gambling website run by the NCPG appear once per NFL game, in cooperation with the league, and generate about 30,000 hits a week, he added. About 45 million people a year bet on an NFL game, according to the American Gaming Association, which is closer to the 17.2% lifetime rate for sports betting reported in the JAMA Network Open study, rather than the annual rate estimated by the authors of the study.

Professional sports leagues, like the NFL, once banned any mention of betting on their broadcasts, blacklisted players and managers who played, and within living memory denounced betting as a threat to “the ‘integrity’ of their sports. No more.

“I was surprised when I first saw leagues making deals with gambling companies and then I realized we were going to see ads every time we turned on a game,” Winters said. Not just ads, but sports pages like The Washington Post and cable channels like ESPN now offer betting tips. This new gaming industrial complex is “in a frenzy of customer acquisition, and [is] spending huge sums on advertising and sponsorships,” notes a recent business report.

“Leagues do it, arenas do it, teams do it. They just can’t resist the revenue streams when it became legal,” Winters said.

There’s a reason they’re running the ads

Understanding the extent of problem gambling in sports is complicated for researchers, added Jeffrey Derevensky, director of the International Center on Youth Gambling and Risk Behaviors at McGill University in Canada. Unlike alcoholism or opioid use disorders, which leave traces such as cases of cirrhosis or overdoses, gambling problems are seen in divorces, bankruptcies and survey results. That leaves researchers monitoring calls for gambling hotlines and years behind broader trends.

“From a public health perspective, we’re really concerned about all these gambling ads,” Derevensky said. The fact that many advertisements depict sports celebrities living lives of luxury, partying and betting, could also explain the demographics of new sports betting, he said: “There is a reason [companies] direct them.

In response to Grid’s questions about gambling announcements, Cait DeBaun of the American Gaming Association noted that the gaming industry has funded research into problem gambling. “A thriving casino gaming industry depends on building responsible, long-term relationships with customers and ensuring those who need help have it,” DeBaun said. The ads steer players towards legal gambling rather than illegal and unregulated sports betting, she added, and account for just 1% of all ads.

However, Derevensky cited particular concern over online sports betting operations moving towards “micro-betting” on in-game events – so-called parries like betting on a missing basket – that could appeal to players. issues that seek their losses and go deeper. a hole. “Chasing losses is the signing of a problematic player.”

He also criticized the imbalance at NFL games between the six ads promoting sports betting, versus the single “Responsible Gaming” ad per game urging fans to set limits on their bets.

NCPG’s Whyte agrees: “I think that’s a fair criticism,” he said, adding that his group is working to produce its own ad specifically targeting problem gamblers, rather than gamblers. punters in general like the NFL game warning. “We need to work harder to reach people who have real problems.”

If you think you have a problem with gambling, you can get help from the National Problem Gambling Council by calling or texting 1-800-522-4700, or online chat at

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for writing this article.

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