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The Degree to Which Betting Is Affecting Athletes and Society

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is an expression that is associated with Thomas Bertram Lance, known as ‘Bert’ who served as an advisor to President Jimmy Carter, eventually becoming director of the Office of Management and the Budget (OMB) in 1976 for his tenure. In short, a person of power.

Over the course of the decades, it has long been casually thrown into conversation, occasionally acting as a somewhat lazy buffer to prevent further exploration of a subject. Since 2018, 39 states, plus Puerto Rico have legalized sports betting, with many of these only having legislation passed in the last couple of years.

It is fair to say that Americans have greeted this development with exuberant enthusiasm. Indeed, the US online gambling market is swiftly emerging as the single largest (both casino and sports betting) industry in the world; such is the demand, which has led to extraordinary monthly revenues, eclipsing $1.5 billion in many cases. As such, it has attracted many sports betting companies to multiple states, with the likes of DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM leading the way nationwide. For those who have been paying attention, gambling could become a major problem if it is not properly handled.

United States online gambling market

Potential Outbreaks in Serious Gambling Addiction

The generally reported feeling is that, in some states in the US, not enough is being done (or at all) to help prevent gambling addiction, which has taken hold in just a short space of time. In terms of timeline, the US still has a relatively young gambling industry, compared to markets such as the UK and it could be argued that it still hasn’t had the chance to completely ‘figure things out’ with regards to the finer details relating to policy.

However, when gambling was legally introduced in the UK, the 2004 Gambling Act soon followed, with the UK Gambling Commission installed to monitor wrongdoing that was especially related to anything that could cause gambling addiction via more unscrupulous marketing methods.

All in all, the UK has been steadily progressive in helping to monitor the industry while also instructing companies to put measures in place designed to help prevent gambling addiction, such as GAMSTOP, allowing people to ‘opt-out’ and ban themselves daily limits, or KYC (Know Your Customer) policies.

It is now or never realistically for the American Gaming Association (AGA) to implement stricter measures that can help to prevent gambling addiction, while also clamping down on dangerous and potentially misleading marketing campaigns, designed to easily persuade susceptible customers to place a bet. Countries such as the UK are on top of this, though it has been a long road to get there.

In the US, however, this is still very much in its infancy and eager betting enthusiasts still get caught up in the excitement of chasing ‘easy money’, often believing their passion for their chosen sport and enjoyment of analyzing statistics will convert into substantial wins. However, it simply isn’t a zero-sum game and anomalies occur all the time.

High Stakes and High Risks

A lot of the time, losing does not deter bettors - often believing that a loss arms them for the next bet because they noticed a vital statistic that can be advantageous for next time. This is where addiction develops for many, some believing that the ‘big win’ is just around the corner or the next ‘tip’ they will receive really will pay off. However, when you throw alcohol into the equation, things appear to get a lot worse, with sports betting and binge drinking seemingly linked to each other in a vicious circle.

A lot of people are worried about what sports wagering is going to do to people’s finances and their money in gambling problems. To be clear, such potential harms are a real concern. But with sports gambling, there may be even greater overall risks because sports gambling, even more than other types of gambling, is linked to problematic alcohol use.

Joshua GrubbsProfessor at the University of New Mexico

And, it isn’t just normal members of society either. An increasing number of sports stars and athletes have taken to sports betting, in most cases, out of boredom; something that has caused numerous problems in Europe over the last few years, resulting in punishments as harsh as heavy fines and suspensions.

Sports betting scandals have also started to become rife in the US. In March, it was found that, allegedly, Shohei Ohtani sent $4.5 million to an illegal bookmaker. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers player was saved courtesy of his interpreter and friend, who was fired. The whole issue raised many questions within the industry and those investigating the matter, especially surrounding the issue of the extension of such a large line of credit to an interpreter ‘earning $85,000’ per year, in addition to ease of access to his client’s bank account.

Chris Grove, a gambling industry professional, revealed: “Credit is the lifeblood of illegal bookmakers, so we shouldn’t be surprised when an illegal bookmaker utilizes credit to attract a high-value customer, especially when that customer has shown they are good for it.”

Meanwhile, a betting scandal has also recently rocked the NBA, with Jontay Porter of the Toronto Raptors being investigated for a strange increase in bets relating to his performances, such as the number of points and rebounds he would get during two previous games, which he then departed early due to illness.

How Has Europe Dealt with the Problem?

As far as sports stars betting (in particular soccer players), there have been many instances that have occurred in Europe over the years and these were met with heavy punishments.

Ultimately, in the vast majority of countries in Europe, a professional athlete is prohibited from betting on his or her own sport. However, there have been numerous cases. Most recently, Italian soccer player Sandro Tonali transferred from AC Milan (Italy) to Newcastle United (England) for approximately $80 million. However, merely a few weeks into his new employment, he was found guilty of breaching betting regulations in Italy, though the English Premier League decided to uphold the rules and agreed to the nine-month suspension from playing football.

Meanwhile, sports betting has become a major problem in society, especially in the UK, over the last two decades and has been the cause of many related issues, such as antisocial behavior, fraud, alcoholism, bankruptcy and homelessness.

In England, charities are set up to help members of society with gambling addiction, which have served as a big help to those who have been seriously affected by it.

Across other European countries, problems still exist. The Netherlands recently introduced sports betting and it has been considerably strict with its operators in terms of how they are allowed to advertise and their affiliations with football clubs.

There is also a growing fear that addiction could become a problem in countries such as Portugal - a country with underlying poverty levels and yet an unprecedented growth in sports betting over the last two years. Many other countries across Europe are also beginning to witness problems caused by sports betting and related issues.

The Double-Edged Sword of Sports Betting

In the US, though, what certainly appears to be the case is that mobile sports betting is gradually becoming a problem across multiple states and, even more concerning, the increasing links that this has to alcoholism and how this has the ability to spiral out of control, with no organizations put in place to help those who are most at risk.

There is a significant danger however, that when sports fans see athletes placing bets, (or being suspected of placing bets), it does little to deter them from doing it themselves - especially when some sports stars become the face of gambling brands as well. Indeed, since 2018, NFL revenue stands at $132 million as a direct result of gambling related sponsorships - a staggering increase on the previous figure of $35 million. It is the same for the NBA, MLB and NHL.

In many instances, it is being claimed that the legalization of sports betting has saved numerous franchises, because it has made games interesting again for viewers, allowing them to place bets - this interest in turn, having led to lucrative sponsorship deals with the sports betting operators. During live broadcasts, odds are openly discussed among analysts and commentators, aware of their audience and the possible ways in which what they are saying could be interpreted by young adults, especially under the influence of alcohol.

NFL revenue stands at $132 million

The Dangers of Unchecked Growth

What is clear is that sports betting is swiftly becoming a problem across the US, and, frighteningly, it is likely to be only the beginning, with nothing currently seemingly to be put in place to help prevent addiction.

Despite this, Bill Miller, President of the American Gaming Association, has been openly vocal regarding his doubts about gambling addiction in the US, though based on the figures that are being generated, it does leave his statement open to interpretation: “I don’t believe that there is an addiction to mobile betting any more than there is an addiction to utilization of your phone for any other reason.”

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