The dark side of the sports betting boom

New York

Sports gambling gold rush is coming at high cost.

In 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on commercial sports betting in most countries. Thirty-three states have legalized sports gambling following this decision. Now, on Super Bowl Sunday, a record 50.4 million American adults expected bet on the game.

Gambling researchers and addiction experts say the booming sports betting industry, legislators and even professional sports leagues are making it easy for people to bet on games. faster, and more attractive — and develop gambling problems.

Flooded with ads, technology that allows one-click betting at home, and almost unlimited betting options in games that have collided with each other. States report a spike in requests to state gambling addiction hotlines.

Over the past 5 years, there has been an explosion of online sports betting apps from companies like DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars. These apps often replace illegal betting sites. At the same time, they also attract a large number of new gamblers who have never set foot in a casino or know how to bet with the house.

During the Super Bowl, there will be a series of ads – most of which feature sponsors and famous athletes – to encourage new signups and gain market share. DraftKings will air a commercial featuring Kevin Hart and David Ortiz, while Rob Gronkowski will perform a live tee shot in a FanDuel commercial. (Any customer who places a Super Bowl bet of five dollars or more on FanDuel will win a $10 million bonus in “free bets” if Gronkowski succeeds.)

Rob Gronkowski in a FanDuel commercial.  Star athletes and celebrities have appeared in many sports betting advertisements.

Sports teams and federations have been strongly opposed to gambling in games. Now, they have teamed up with sportsbooks.

Nowadays, gamblers can also do much more than bet on the outcome of a game. There are options for in-game bets on each quarter, player, and event.

Resources for gambling addiction programs have long been exhausted in the United States and have been further stretched by the current wave of sports betting. In 2020, there are 5.7 million Americans with a gambling disorder, according to a national survey by the National Association of Disordered Gambling Service Managers.

The focus on gambling disorders has historically been rare in the United States, said Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist and co-director of the UCLA Gambling Research Program.

This, he says, is partly because people with gambling disorders are perceived as stupid or lacking in willpower. “We equate the ability to keep money and make money with success, and we equate losing with greed.”

There is also sparse federal oversight of the gambling industry, and there are currently no federal funds designated for problem gambling research or treatment, unlike federal funds for alcohol, tobacco, and drug addiction programs.

DraftKings is one of the most popular sports betting apps.

A patchwork of state laws, a lack of strong consumer protections in many states, and limited advertising restrictions are adding to the problems.

“Many states have naively or in some other way legalized sports betting without,” said John Holden, an associate professor of management at Oklahoma State University who studies sports gambling regulation. Full cost estimates for problem gambling resources.

“There is much more state legislators can do within the confines of commercial speech restrictions,” says Holden, including authorizing additional funding to pursue false and misleading advertising. misread.

Sports betting can be a way for some people to develop, maintain or accelerate a gambling disorder.

Sports betting has a number of characteristics that set it apart from other forms of gambling and can lead to addictive behavior.

Many sports bettors tend to find their winnings in safer games and are more informed by their own expertise and skill than luck, the researchers say. This can lead them to have a false illusion of control.

In addition, in-game live betting reduces the lag between risk and reward, while increasing the speed and frequency of betting, experts say.

“I get caught up in a lot of live betting,” a 24-year-old man with a gambling disorder told CNN on condition of anonymity. He started betting on sports 7 years ago through a bookie, but increased his bets when he started using the apps.

In soccer matches, he would bet on the outcome of the hits and which team would score on the next touchdown. When he loses more in a game, he will try to win it back in the next play.

“You see how the game is going and you think you know,” he said. “It’s not like the old days with a bookie betting on who wins.”

He said he lost $100,000 on sports gambling, including money from student loans. He is currently recovering at Beit T’Shuvahin Los Angeles, which provides inpatient and outpatient services for people struggling with a gambling disorder.

Casey Clark, senior vice president of the American Gaming Association, a trade group for the gambling industry, said the legalization of sports betting has transformed the black market sports gambling into a marketplace. managed, to the benefit of the states.

Clark said the gambling industry and sports betting operators work with regulators, professional sports leagues, media companies and advocates to set standards. , which provides gambling education to consumers and raises funds for recovery efforts for those seeking treatment.

“We’ve had a really quick escalation and movement towards giving American consumers access to the legal market that they clearly desire. And so we have to keep growing that market,” he said.

Advocates of people with gambling disorders say the need for supportive services and treatment has increased with the rapid expansion of legalized sports betting.

Inquiries sent to the New Jersey Board of Compulsory Gambling helpline about sports gambling have increased 60 percent since it became legal, said Felicia Grondin, executive director of the organization. legislation in the state in 2018.

Grondin felt helpless in the face of a flood of advertisements that encouraged betting on games.

An advertisement for DraftKings is displayed on a scoreboard during the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park on July 7, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan.

“We consider it predatory advertising because it’s non-stop and it glorifies gambling,” she said.

Clark from the American Game Association said the team created a responsible marketing code to set industry-wide advertising standards.

But the industry’s self-enforcement cannot compensate for the close scrutiny from regulators, said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Gambling.

“Self-correction tends to lower itself to the lowest common denominator, not the highest,” he said. “Some operators are definitely taking advantage of the weak regulatory environment in some states.”

Every state where gambling is legal has a regulatory agency that oversees it.

But few have “actually done more than the minimum amount to raise funding for problem gambling treatment,” Holden said. The sports gambling industry most closely resembles the financial market, he said, but financial markets are much more regulated than banks.

Most states require sports betting ads to disclose the minimum legal age to gamble and responsible gambling messages, such as a problem gambling hotline. Those messages are brief and usually run at the end.

DraftKings Super Bowl commercial with Kevin Hart, David Ortiz and Emmitt Smith.

Regulators are wary of how closely they can cut messages in gambling advertising without violating First Amendment protections for commercial speech.

“A lot of government agencies have big First Amendment concerns,” Holden said. “No one wants to fund a lawsuit or lose a Supreme Court case over gambling.”

In most states, the legal age to bet on sports is 21 years old. But advertising in matches, in stadiums and with star-sport sponsors has normalized sports betting for children and teenagers, critics say. The UK last year banned top athletes and celebrities from appearing in pro- or gambling ads to try to curb underage gambling. That is unlikely in the United States.

In addition, the researchers ran into trouble with the offers and promotions that some sports betting apps often offer to users, such as signup and referral bonuses, promo codes and bonuses. place a bet. One 2017 of gamblers found that messages with the offer of a risk-free bonus had a high impact.

Ohio Casino Regulatory Commission in January fined DraftKings, Caesars and BetMGM $150,000 each for promotional advertising or bonuses as “free” or “risk-free” when in reality users are forced to lose money or risk their own money to receive promotions.

“I am more motivated to gamble with apps that let you play for free and match your deposit,” said the now-recovered former Los Angeles sportsbook. He asks his friends to sign up for a referral fee and treats these lures as free money. “I must be an idiot to ignore this.”


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