A Rise in Gambling Addiction as Sports Betting Expands Seems Like a Safe Bet

It seems reasonable to expect that the rise of sports betting will lead to an increase in gambling addiction

More than 400 proposition bets for Super Bowl LI displayed at the Race & Sports SuperBook at the Westgate Las Vegas
A Super Bowl prop bets board in Las Vegas
Getty Images

When Super Bowl LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals kicks off at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on February 13, Americans in close to 30 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico will have the ability to place a legal wager on the game either online or in person.

For most, placing a wager on the Rams, Bengals or one of the hundreds of player props that will accompany the big game will simply add a little excitement to Super Sunday to accompany their nachos and chicken wings. But, for the estimated 6.6 million people in America who struggle with gambling addiction as well as those who are at-risk for developing a problem, a bet on the Super Bowl, win or lose, could be the first step on the path to ruin.

If that sounds overly dramatic, perhaps it is. However, it’s just simply realistic to expect that the spread of sports betting billboards, banners and commercials advertising moneylines and point spreads across the United States is going to lead to more Americans developing a gambling problem.

Timothy Fong, one of the directors of the gambling studies program at UCLA, told The New York Times that betting on sports is “endemic and acceptable and so mainstream that it is now a major pillar of American entertainment. The question is what kind of impact is this going to have on our mental health, on our public health?”

Judging by the money that is being wagered, that impact has the potential to be quite sizable as America’s aggregate gambling revenue is expected to nearly equal the cumulative total of music, books and movies at about $44 billion in 2022, according to Forbes. Expect that figure to rise by ’23 as the National Council on Problem Gambling released a study in September that showed the number of Americans who bet on sports grew by 30% in an 18-month period.

With sports betting on the rise and more and more people learning they can bet from their smartphone from one of the many sportsbook ads that now routinely play on television, Keith Whyte, the council’s executive director, said his organization’s call centers are busier than ever before and the lack of resources for problem gamblers is a real concern.

“We’re still the first inning of a lot of this stuff. [It’s] early to tell the impact and severity of gambling addiction,” he told The Washington Post. “The signs we’re seeing are very troubling.”

For research and advocacy groups like Whyte’s, proving that there is a problem and that it is getting worse is made more difficult because of the difficulty of getting data about mobile betting. “We’ve been engaged in a massive cultural experiment with gambling, and we’re delivering gambling to America in ways that are unprecedented worldwide,” Whyte told Bloomberg. “No one, at least from an addiction standpoint, has been able to look at what the impact will be on problem gambling. Groups like ours are being asked to examine possibly negative impacts of new tools and technologies without being given any access to private companies’ internal data and product information. State gambling commissions are close to being captives of the industry. They defer to the industry and don’t understand some of the new technologies.”

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