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Sports Betting: The Risks of This Growing Industry

Even though more than 112 million Americans can legally wager on sports, the US betting industry hasn’t reached its full potential. Many expect this $44 billion market to be worth more than $140 billion by 2028. After the Supreme Court overturned PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) in 2018, 30 states signed agreements with gambling operators such as Caesars, DraftKings, and MGM. 

In 2021, ten states changed their online gambling & betting laws, and 11 went live. This year, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Missouri are likely to legalize this form of gambling. This is good news for investors, but the speed of this industry’s growth could leave many problem gamblers without adequate support. 

Billions Spent on Sports Bets

According to Vegas-odds.com, more than $87 billion has been wagered on sports in the US since 2018. Many people thought that the repeal of the PASPA act would merely give existing bettors legal ways to place bets, but early results show that these new easy-to-access betting options have attracted new customers.

As neighboring states pass gambling bills, more and more governments are moving quickly to ensure betting revenue stays within state lines. The figures this industry can turn over are astronomical.

New Jersey set a new record in November 2021 when it took in more than $1.26 billion in sports bets. To not be left behind, the New York State Gaming Commission let mobile betting apps go live on January 8 this year. 

The news of New Jersey’s record-breaking month came two months after the NCPG (National Council on Problem Gambling) released a study that showed that the number of Americans who bet on sports had grown by 30% in just 18 months – an extra 15.3 million bettors. Many people are worried that governing bodies and gambling operators aren’t doing enough to protect at-risk gamblers. 

Keith Whyte, executive director of the NCPG, said that it’s too “early to tell the impact and severity of gambling addiction.” However, early research conducted by the organization suggests the risk of problem gambling has doubled since 2018. “The signs we’re seeing are very troubling,” he said.

Several sports league executives have said that they will play an active role in encouraging the use of safety protocols when working with gambling providers.

Christopher Halpin, the NFL’s executive vice president and chief strategy and growth officer said, “We always say, ‘If they break it, we still own it,’ and we’re as exposed as the worst sportsbook in the worst market.”

The NFL has also looked at existing international gambling markets to make sure they appeal to gamblers without offending fans. In the UK, for example, when government officials started to look at rules, soccer leagues cut down on advertising opportunities at games to stay ahead of any new changes. Many bookmakers also agreed not to show TV commercials after 9 pm.

“They’ve had to react to some of the backlash and put some of those things in place,” said Casey Clark, senior vice president of the American Gaming Association. “We’re not ever going to be in that position because we’re kind of light-years ahead of where they were at this point of their maturity.”

However, gambling ads occupy US TV screens at various times throughout a typical day. Yet some viewers are voicing their disapproval. Records from the Federal Communications Commission show that it has received many complaints about sports gambling commercials.

Major American sports leagues have already set limits on the number of commercials that can be aired during a game. For example, the NFL allows one ad per quarter, one at the start of the game, and one at the end. Yet, most gambling ads are shown outside of this three-hour game window, especially in commercial blocks owned by local TV stations in states with substantial gambling markets.

A study by the NFL found that 42% of its fans were casual bettors, but 1 in 5 people don’t like sports betting. For this reason, the league tells its TV partners not to target its fans with ads that are only for gamblers. Yet this advice often falls on deaf ears. 

It’s like a political season because they’ll (TV stations) just sell the ad to whoever has the highest and most demand,” commented Halpin. “Local sports betting operators can pay more than anybody else.”

NCPG Executive Director Concerned

Whyte of the NCPG said its call centers are busier than ever before and that he’s concerned about the lack of resources available for problem gamblers.

“In the conversations we have with leagues, I think they’ve been unpleasantly surprised at all the gaps in the safety net,” Whyte said. “I think that a lot of leagues and a lot of their owners took the industry’s assertions at face value: ‘Oh, we’ve got this responsible gambling thing covered. Don’t worry. It’s all good.’ “The amount of money devoted to problem gambling programs varies from state to state; some allocate a lot of tax revenue to funding free services, while others don’t spend a dime.

According to a survey by the NCPG, young people and daily fantasy sports players are more likely to have gambling problems. Whyte believes operators allow underage users to register free fantasy sports accounts to get hold of their info, enabling them to send out betting promotions as soon as they’re are old enough to gamble. 

Despite these worrying signs, the US sports betting industry is set to go from strength to strength in 2022.


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