Column: Does Sports Betting Promote Addiction? You can bet on that | opinion

Ben Affleck, the movie star and avid gamer struggling with alcohol addiction, is one of the most visible players in sports gambling. He is the focus of a TV advertisement for the mobile betting app WynnBET. “We all want to win. Let’s win together! ”Exclaims Affleck.

Aaron Paul, the actor who played just an addict on “Breaking Bad” and turned himself off harsh drug use after watching his girlfriend get consumed with addiction, is a spokesperson for Bet365, a sports betting app. It has more than 63 million users worldwide and offers newbies $ 500 credit to join. “You have to ask yourself why I am not a member of the most popular sports betting company in the world?” Asks Paul in an ad.

Those who scroll through these two apps are offered sports betting legs – betting on money lines, touchdowns, parlays, fight results, total hits, and other outcomes. At the bottom of the screen is this notice: “If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and needs help, call 1-800 GAMBLER.”

You call me old-fashioned, but with sports betting enjoying pandemic expansion across the country, shouldn’t we worry more about the possibility of a surge in gambling disruption? And isn’t it terrifying that people who should know better are enthusiastic about this?

As a reminder, for most gamblers, betting is recreation. Based on historical data, only about 1% of adults in the United States have a serious problem such as: B. Gambling addiction. About 2 to 3% of adults have less serious problems; they are not addicts, but gambling causes them financial and social misery. Most people bet for fun.

The problem is that these small percentages represent 6 to 8 million people. And most of the academic and clinical studies of gambling disorder in the United States were conducted when legal sports gambling was restricted to Nevada and back room betting with bookmakers was not digital. The boom in sports betting that began three years ago after the US Supreme Court overturned Nevada’s monopoly, along with the accessibility of mobile devices and apps, mean that a significantly larger and younger proportion of Americans are now at risk. It will take researchers some time to keep track of the current sports betting world and the problems that individuals and communities may encounter.

“We have conducted a massive cultural experiment in gambling and are bringing gambling to America in ways unprecedented in the world,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, a research and advocacy group. “Nobody, at least from an addiction perspective, has seen the effects on problem gambling.”

“Groups like ours are being asked to investigate the potential negative effects of new tools and technologies without access to private companies’ internal data and product information,” he added, citing regulatory failures. “State gaming commissions are almost prisoners of the industry. They submit to the industry and do not understand some of the new technologies. “

When mainstream companies took over the gambling business decades ago, they were more disciplined than their organized crime predecessors in analyzing which forms of betting were most profitable and appealing. Slot machines quickly supplanted table games in the center of casino floors. The abundance of data such machines could collect on what players liked helped casinos make their games more lucrative and potentially more addicting. Apps and other digital gambling offerings are even more data-centric than slot machines and can be optimized to take advantage of features that make gambling compulsive, such as:

Irish gaming company Flutter Entertainment PLC doubled its sales last year thanks to many of its brands, but notably FanDuel, one of the most popular sports betting apps in the U.S. Flutter also bought Sky Bet from Rupert Murdoch’s media company last year, and that’s now the most popular UK gambling app

The New York Times recently reported that Sky Bet used its app’s data profiling software to investigate a compulsive gambler’s betting history and favorite sports with such precision that it could essentially haunt him and become addicted – even if he tried to quit. “They took his addiction and converted it into code,” an attorney representing the player told the Times. Sky Bet told the Times that it did not target vulnerable players and that it “took the responsibility for safe gambling incredibly seriously”.

Concerned about how quickly gambling has spread in the digital age, the UK government is conducting a review of its 2005 Gambling Act, which eased the country’s betting bans. But now the government is looking to see if the industry has since ditched safeguards that once protected younger or compulsive gamblers. The UK has banned the use of credit cards for gambling, restricted the advertising of sports betting and is considering further marketing restrictions. (Spain has similar restrictions; Italy banned all sports teams in 2019 from pursuing sponsorship or advertising partnerships with gambling companies.)

A parliamentary study of the UK gambling market published last year highlighted the huge amounts of money the industry was spending on advertising and found that most of its profits came from a small number of problem gamblers. “The unscrupulous methods and ingenuity of some gambling providers make for a shocking read,” the report said. “New games are constantly being developed that are often very addicting and sometimes particularly appealing to children.”

“Alcohol or drug addiction is very popular and has a lot of resources,” the report also says. “The comparable harm caused by gambling addiction has not received the same attention and is only now being recognized.”

Don’t expect a comparable federal review in the U.S. Because the Supreme Court gives states the power to legalize and regulate gambling at their own discretion, the responsibility lies with the states to oversee the industry. But, as Whyte points out, states are increasingly committed to gambling companies that create new jobs and tax revenues. Legislators are unlikely to make problem gambling an issue if it threatens their new cash cows.

There are only a few guard rails. The use of credit and debit cards for gambling is allowed in the US, although some card companies still do not allow it. In Nevada, however, there are debit card readers at the gaming tables and restrictions on the amount of dollars and the number of card swipes have been lifted. Digital innovations pose a multitude of new challenges. The players’ one-to-one relationship with their mobile devices, the use of push notifications, geolocations, and social media information enable companies to tailor advertising to millions of bettors – with negligible external control. Some gambling companies like Entain PLC say they use the data they gain to identify and eliminate problematic gamblers before their problems get worse, but there is no empirical evidence that operators routinely do so.

In 2020, commercial gambling and sports betting companies paid 6.7 billion. Most of the research is funded by the gambling industry, which spends that money to mitigate the effects of rampant gambling – and to polish its reputation. But the amount of information they share with outsiders is limited, making it difficult for independent analysts to assess the impact of gambling.

“We can’t even keep up with the forms of gambling we’re already familiar with, let alone new technologies,” said Whyte.

Whyte also noted that spending more on gambling research and regulation and more support for gambling disorders would make fiscal sense: Research suggests that for every dollar spent treating gambling disorders, governments would save $ 2 in healthcare costs .

States are betting on digital sports gambling even though for operators it is a low profit margin business and generates less tax revenue than lotteries and brick and mortar casinos. In New Jersey, the largest sports betting market in the country, betting has brought in about 1/20 as much tax revenue as the lottery and only a fraction of that from casinos. But those numbers are likely to shift as sports gambling continues its triumphant advance, especially if Super Bowl betting is a guide.

Last February, 23.2 million Americans bet about $ 4.3 billion on the Super Bowl, which the American Gaming Association dubbed “the largest single event in American sports betting history.” Approximately 7.6 million of these players bet online, an increase of 63% compared to 2020. The onslaught overwhelmed sports betting companies’ computer servers and resulted in outages.

Some problem gamers will be part of the crush that will be back on the Super Bowl in February. Ignoring this problem creates costs for everyone involved. Although compulsive and problematic gamblers have not historically attracted the interest or support that society has for alcoholics and drug addicts, their numbers are inevitable as the sports betting boom continues.

Money is the substance that problem gamblers abuse – and there are more dealers out there offering a chance to win than ever before.

Timothy L. O’Brien is a senior columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.

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