Media Takes Note of America's Increase in Problem Gambling

Feb 15, 2024

Since the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018, legalized sports betting has skyrocketed in the United States. Nearly $300 billion has been bet on sports already and the annual numbers are expected to continue to grow every year as more states legalize. And for the first time ever, Las Vegas hosted Super Bowl LVIII, which is a sign of the times and may have contributed to the record estimate of about $1.3 billion bet on the Super Bowl this year.

There are many variables that play into why sports betting has become so popular in our society. However, a major reason is the convenience of placing bets on mobile apps directly on cell phones. Bettors can place wagers without leaving the comfort of their home. However, this has also resulted in a major increase in gambling addiction throughout the United States.

Recently, there has been a surge in mainstream media coverage of the increases in gambling addictions across the country. Major news outlets such as CBS and ESPN, among others, have shined a spotlight on problem gambling and how sportsbooks are taking advantage of many Americans’ vulnerability. 

Media’s increased focus on gambling addiction 

60 Minutes (CBS)

On February 5th, a week before the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, 60 Minutes aired a long segment about how the rise of sports betting is fueling gambling addictions in the U.S.

Sportsbooks, sports leagues and state governments are cashing in from the revenue of sports betting. It’s logical that these entities want as much money wagered as possible since more betting equals more profits of varying forms. 

Popular sportsbooks in the U.S. such as FanDuel and DraftKings are enticing people through promotions to bet on games. Betting advertisements normalize wagering on sports, making it appear common and cool. The main target demographic of these companies is men under 35, and they are the ones suffering from gambling addiction the most.

An alarming fact about problem gambling is that there is currently no federal funding for gambling research. Instead, funding is the responsibility of each individual state. (NOTE: The newly proposed - but not approved or enacted - “GRIT Act” would set aside 50% of a new federal sports excise tax revenue for gambling addiction treatment and research.)

Furthermore, AI algorithms and data are being used by sports betting companies to lure in bettors. The investigation discovered that betting operators have as many as 93 data points (or more) on individuals, including when they bet, what they bet and what promos are attractive to them. They can very likely pinpoint potential problem gamblers, but are not fully incentivized to stop or prevent addiction.

Those seeking to quit sports betting are often directed to “a glaringly old-school” approach - a 1-800-GAMBLER number. Prominent individuals in the problem gambling industry argue that this is a dangerous approach because it puts all the onus on the individual to use an addictive product responsibility. Dick Daynard, a main man who fought against Big Tobacco, is joining forces with public-interest lawyers Harry Levant and Mark Gottlieb to fight against the sports betting industry and protect potential problem gamblers.

Daynard’s group filed the first of a series of lawsuits against DraftKings in Massachusetts for deceptive advertising. The group also lobbied to Congress to enact federal regulations of sports betting.

As gambling becomes more addictive and dangerous, expect more resistance from groups like Daynard, Levant and Gottlieb.

Outside the Lines (ESPN)

ESPN’s Sportscenter and Outside the Lines (OTL) released a mini-series on the history of sports betting in the U.S. and its origin in Las Vegas.

It was 21 years ago that the R&R Partners marketing team came with an ad campaign about Las Vegas and planned to showcase it during the 2003 Super Bowl. The NFL rejected them from running the advertisement.

Why is this significant? For years, the NFL and other sports wanted to create as much distance from Las Vegas and their own brands. They did not want any connection between Sin City and the integrity of their games for obvious reasons such as fixing games and point shaving.

OTL ran through a timeline of significant events that led up to the sports gambling crazed society that we live in today.

  • 2011: New Jersey became the first state to challenge PASPA and the federal ban on sports betting

  • 2014: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote an Op-Ed arguing to regulate betting rather than pretend that millions aren’t already being bet illegally

  • 2018: Supreme Court voted in favor of striking down PASPA, leaving states to regulate gambling as they choose

  • Present: 40 U.S. jurisdictions offer some form of legalized sports betting

Last year, New York Congressman Paul Tonko proposed a federal ban on gambling advertisements. He claims that advertisements are targeting vulnerable populations (teenagers, younger men) and that we could be facing a public health crisis.

CBS News Reports

CBS News also reported a story showcasing America’s growing sports gambling addiction. Problem Gambling is on the rise and a few reasons are because of 24/7 access to mobile sportsbooks and targeted advertisements that encourage increased gambling. 

As mentioned, the sports betting industry is targeting one of the most vulnerable populations, which is mainly young people. Sportsbooks are on the hunt for young bettors that will be customers for a long time, with “LTV” (Lifetime Value) a key performance indicator. The people that are going to be betting for decades down the line are those in their 20s and 30s. It would be hard to walk around a college campus nowadays and not find college students betting on sports with their cell phones.

Another problem area is a new hybrid form of gaming that combines fantasy sports with sports betting. Some companies are offering betting experiences to teenagers (18+ years old) by operating under the guise of fantasy sports, claiming that what appear to be prop bet parlays are actually fantasy lineups. Problem gambling experts are arguing that these are contributing to “creating an epidemic of child gambling.” Some states have begun the crackdown on these hybrid gaming platforms, issuing fines and cease & desist orders to operators. 

Sports betting can lead to dangerous addictions and be destructive to those who use it as an escape from their emotions. A sports betting addiction is similar to an alcohol or drug addiction in many ways, but one distinct difference is that one cannot usually see a physical change in a person.

In the CBS News report, the audience gets a first-hand look into gambling addiction. In one part, a woman describes how her whole life was turned upside-down by gambling. She explains how doctors are held accountable for opioid prescriptions and bars are responsible for overserving patrons, but somehow the consumer is the only one that appears to be responsible for gambling addiction.

A dilemma for states is that if they try to make sports betting safer by taking measures like restricting gambling advertising, they will likely see less tax revenue flowing into their coffers from licensed gambling operators. Meanwhile the calls from social experts are getting louder, with pushes for more regulation to counteract this “hidden epidemic” before more American lives are ruined. 

Boston Globe 

Last Sunday, the Boston Globe published an article about how a growing number of young people are in need of gambling addiction help.

In Massachusetts’ biggest cities like Boston and Springfield, treatment clinics have seen an increased amount of youth seeking help for their gambling behaviors. A new trend shows that more college students than ever have attended Gamblers Anonymous meetings throughout the Commonwealth.

The article mentioned that state regulators have not kept up with the accelerated pace and tech sophistication of mobile betting platforms. It states, “The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with reasoning and impulse control, is not fully developed until a person reaches their late 20s, health researchers have found.” With legalized sports betting for 21+ year olds, young adults are expected to handle the addictive nature of sports betting before their brain is fully developed.

DraftKings chief compliance officer Jennifer Aguiar stated that the company takes protective measures to make sure bettors are of age. But the reality is that many tech-savvy kids who want to bet have been finding ways to do so, including signing up by pretending to be their parents. Since legalization, compulsive gamblers have been getting younger and younger as betting becomes more popular. 

Florida

In a February 11 article, the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling said that it is struggling to meet the demand of Problem Gambling calls. They’ve seen a stunning 138% increase from December 2023 to January 2024. They predict that they will receive about 40,000 calls this year, which is significantly higher than the 26,000 calls in 2023.

Florida is a microcosm of what is occurring across around three-quarters of the United States - the rise of problem gambling is growing faster than the support and resources needed for it. 

Operators push back against negative coverage

FanDuel CEO Amy Howe responded to the recent negative media coverage by pointing out the lack of focus on illegal offshore markets, which still prevail in the shadows despite legal options being more widely available. She claims that FanDuel and other regulated operators take steps to protect minors and have invested a lot of resources into responsible gambling, something that illegal betting sites do not do.

Howe stated, “We found it incredibly disappointing because it didn’t acknowledge what has actually happened in the last five years since the market opened up. You have taken an illicit market just shy of 50% of the US population and brought it into light… As one of many regulated operators, we’re adhering to a certain set of standards that the illegal market isn’t in protecting minors. We have very strict controls around anti-money laundering, our marketing is scrutinized, and we’ve invested a tremendous amount of resources in responsible gambling.”

Gambling Addiction and Sports Betting statistics & trends

Sports betting popularity and consequently gambling addiction rates have been growing significantly:

  • In the 5 years since NJ legalized online sports gambling, calls to the state’s Problem Gambling hotline nearly tripled. Ages 25-34 was the largest demographic (from 60 Minutes report).

  • Since PASPA was overturned, nearly $300 billion was bet on sports, generating $5 billion in tax revenue (OTL).

  • According to a NCAA survey, nearly 60% of 18-22 year olds have placed a bet, with 16% engaging in risky behavior (CBS report).

  •  Industry is expected to spend $1.3 billion in advertising in 2024.

  • 86% of online gambling profits come from 5% of the gamblers.

  • Problem gambling calls increased by 138% over one month from Dec ‘23 to Jan ‘24 in Florida.

Gambling Addiction help and resources

If you or someone you know needs help with a gambling addiction, there are new resources available to help. Birches Health values every person who needs support and does not believe cost should get in the way of treatment. Email hello@bircheshealth.com or call (833) 483-3838 to get customized treatment from specialists in the field. 

References:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDsLu0CWcgk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qn8Y_6cn474&t=2s

Calls to gambling addiction hotline increase amid legalizing sports betting apps 

Raising the Stakes: America's Growing Sports Gambling Addiction | CBS Reports 

How much money was bet on 2024 Super Bowl? Billions in handle but tough day for sportsbooks | Sporting News 

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