Who doesn’t like to make a quick buck? Since childhood, we have been placing friendly, innocuous bets with our friends and relatives on the outcome of future events – driven not just by plain arrogance in our predictive capabilities but also by the thrill of winning money over our fellow betters. Most of those bets are lost, re-assuring our young minds about the potential risk involved with gambling. Such sound judgement, though, is often misplaced on a majority of people. As monetary shortage escalates with adulthood, they become problem gamblers; routinely indulging in legal or illegal betting with the promise of a big win right around the corner. In the U.S., as per estimates from the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), they constitute around 3-4% of the adult population.
Gambling on the outcome of sporting events, or sports betting, is a lucrative market that grabs the attention of such gamblers all over the world. Bettors place wagers not only on the outcome of a sporting event, but also on player performances and statistics within the game.
Up until recently, sports betting in the U.S. was illegal in all states, except Nevada; with Americans spending an estimated $150 billion each year on illegal wagers. In May 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that prohibited states to gamble on the result of sporting events – opening the door for states to pass legislation that could regulate and eventually tax legal sports betting.
The decision has met with tremendous approval among state officials, major professional sports leagues, and the gambling industry – all of whom seek to reap a profit from the business. While the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) states that “the ruling would create an open, transparent and responsible market for sports betting”, they also hope to earn around $500 million annually in ‘integrity fee’ – a percentage of revenue paid by betting agencies to supposedly ‘curb down corruption’ in sports league.
To understand the negative consequences that legalized sports betting could have on U.S. problem gamblers, one just requires a glimpse across the Atlantic. With more than 8000 betting shops operational in the U.K., the $18.4 billion a year industry legally allows its citizens to regularly bet on soccer, cricket, rugby and horse racing. Online sports betting accounts for 34% of the market revenue, enticing viewers to bet using their smartphone apps. A few of these agencies are also the official sponsors for some Premier League teams, with their names written across their jerseys. A recent BBC report states that 95% of TV matches show at least one gambling advertisement during its run, updating viewers on different outcome odds. As gambling seems normalized in the UK society, Britain’s Gambling Commission Regulator reports that the number of problem gamblers in the country has increased by 33% in the past three years, shockingly accounting to almost 1% of Britain’s entire population.
UK officials have tried to reduce the influence that betting advertisements has on gamblers, with the Labor party calling for a ban on betting companies sponsoring UK soccer teams. Australia gambles more per capita than any other country in the world, with 75% of children assuming gambling a normal part of sports. As an average gambler loses around $1000 per person per year, the Australian government has called for an indefinite ban on betting-related advertisements on national television.
While several agencies, who seek to profit from legal sports betting, have rejoiced the decision, the NCPG raises major concern. As Americans are extremely susceptible to online and TV advertisements, the inclusion of pro-gambling ads could lead to exponential increase in problem gambling. As sports betting becomes mainstream, it could also create a new generation of problem gamblers that don’t mind risking it all in dreams for that one big win.