I’ve never been a big gamer, although I recognize its appeal and its dangers. It’s not hard to be drawn to the floor of a casino floor when visiting Las Vegas. The twinkling lights, the rich architecture, the card-dealing merchants and the tinkling tinkling tinkling ping slot machines are designed to turn heads and empty wallets. Of all the sounds and sights, it’s the roulette table sucking me in as the spinning ball bounces around as spectators like me gasp to see where it lands when the stakes are high.

While most Americans view gambling as an in-person phenomenon, an even more appealing — and dangerous — gambling trend has emerged over the past four years, and it’s attracting a new generation of unwitting participants.

Companies such as DraftKings, BetMGM, Caesars and FanDuel have worked to export the casino playbook to online sportsbooks. The booming industry dubbed “the sports betting gold rush” is expected to reach a staggering $39 billion by 2033, but the negative social impacts could also be significant.

Almost all of us know the urge to check our phones. Refreshing emails or scrolling through the social feed can become a compulsive habit. Popular apps and websites are developed to keep users engaged for as long as possible. Many services that were once only available in person have adapted to new technology and are now thriving on the Internet.

Online shopping allows businesses to guide consumers through their purchases more efficiently than in-store sales associates ever could. Streaming sites are able to provide uninterrupted music and entertainment 24/7. Now casinos, meticulously designed to entice customers to gamble, are showing their potential to translate into a medium already in place to attract users.

In Murphy v. NCAA Supreme Court ruled in May 2018 that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act violates the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, paving the way for states to legalize sports betting.

“The reality is that the online market has become a much bigger opportunity than physical commerce.”

A Harvard Law Review article at the time noted that before the court issued its decision in this landmark case, “many feared that (a nationwide acceptance of sports betting) would corrupt sports leagues and increase gambling addiction. Although some have argued that corruption did indeed increase as a result of Murphy v. NCAA, it’s hard to find evidence of a significant change one way or the other. But experts are much more concerned about the impact that legalized sports gambling has on individuals, especially those already susceptible to addictive behaviors.

“There is evidence,” says Alan Feldman, a leading responsible gambling researcher at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, “that the legalization of sports betting has led to an increase in problem gambling.”

Prior to the 2018 court ruling, betting on the outcome of a sports match was only legal in Nevada; four years later, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized or enacted legislation to legalize sports betting within their borders.

While it is difficult to gauge the extent of industry growth in states where sports betting is newly legal (revenue data for the largest sports betting services is not publicly available), the analysis of sports betting tax revenue is an indicator of the strength of the industry. bECOMES. Since legalizing the practice in January of this year, for example, New York State has already collected a whopping $267 million in sports betting tax revenue. If New Yorkers maintain that over the next seven months, annual sports betting tax revenue in the Empire State could rival the $622 million in gambling tax revenue that the entire state of Nevada enjoys. collected in 2020 – an especially remarkable feat given that Nevada is home to 441 casinos and the gambling capital of the world.

“With the advent of online sports betting, the reality is that the online market has become a much bigger opportunity than physical commerce,” said Marc Edelman, Baruch College law professor, Zicklin School of Business and consultant in sports and games. .

Despite the extra tax revenue, experts say legalized sports betting has likely caused addiction among new players and led to an increase in problem gambling – gambling that damages or disrupts a person’s professional relationships or activities.

“Online betting means players now have a casino in their back pocket at all times,” says Edelman. Alan Cavaiola, director of addiction studies at Monmouth University and author of “A Comprehensive Guide to Addiction Theory and Counseling Techniques“, offered a similar perspective: “There has been an increase in online sports betting and accessibility is playing a major role.”

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling in Washington, D.C., points to a survey his organization conducted in 2021 that showed “the risk of problem gambling has increased by about 30% since 2018.”

“For those with existing gambling issues, this creates 24/7 access to the drug of their choice.”

States where the practice has been legalized, Edelman observes, “have absolutely seen an increase in people calling gambling hotlines and needing help.”

In the 33 states where sports betting has been legalized, gambling companies are able to advertise robustly and without any of the regulations common to other addictive goods and services. “It’s telling that tobacco cannot be advertised on TV and there are many limits on alcohol advertisements, but there are currently no regulations limiting gambling advertisements,” Edelman says. “Americans who suffer from pathological gambling and live in states where sports betting has been legalized are now subjected to a bombardment of advertisements continually inducing the very behavior they may be trying to avoid.”

To remedy this, Edelman suggests that sports leagues and states where sports gambling has been legalized should offer “alternative and reasonably priced programming that is removed from gambling advertising so that children and people with medical conditions don’t have to be constantly subjected to gambling ads. »

Zachary Hansen, an assistant professor at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies, notes that the constant onslaught makes things especially difficult for people trying to kick the habit. “The ease of betting online with a smartphone creates a much more convenient route to initiate gambling. For those who already have gambling problems, it creates 24/7 access to the drug of their choice.

Lockdowns and limited face-to-face interactions during the pandemic have also increased the number of online bettors. Massachusetts Gaming Commission Communications Manager Thomas Mills points to research that suggests an “overall increase in online gambling participation” in recent years; as well as a 2021 impact study that found an increase in online betting when casinos closed due to COVID-19.

Experts cite a host of harms affecting people with gambling addiction. irritability when trying to quit, the ‘chasing’ of losses, and the loss of control that manifests in the continuation of gambling behavior despite escalation, severity, negative consequences,” explains Whyte. “In extreme cases, problem gambling can lead to financial ruin, legal trouble, loss of career and family, and even suicide.”

“The main harm from online sports betting is obviously financial, however, gambling disorders also tend to erode trust in relationships,” Cavaiola offers. He explains that when people with gambling disorders start chasing after their losses, “they often stop at nothing to get money to place more bets. This can include stealing from family members and friends, hijacking their workplaces, and stealing goods that can be exchanged for cash.

“Having mobile access makes it easier to hide the game from others.”

A BMC Public Health study that analyzed the impact of gambling on “individuals, families and communities”, notes that the harms of the practice “are not limited to people with gambling disorder”, and often affect families and friends as well. Hansen says things are further complicated when sports betting accounts are set up to withdraw funds automatically, which makes some punters “feel like they’re betting more”. tokens rather than real money, which results in bigger money losses. Hansen also notes that “mobile access makes it easier to hide the game from others.”

Once addicted, a gambling addiction can be very difficult to shake off. Feldman explains that gambling is processed in the brain “just like drugs and alcohol do”, and that “gambling can be just as difficult to control as drugs or alcohol, but the treatment of game is very effective”.

Problem gambling treatment options for addicts include individual counselling. “As part of treatment, people gain insight into their personal motivations for gambling…learn ways to cope with cravings and prevent gambling relapses,” says Hansen. Experts also suggest talking about your addiction with other players who are going through similar struggles or have overcome them. “Gamblers Anonymous is free, and meetings are easily accessible in person or virtually,” says Cavaiola. “I also highly recommend self-exclusion programs to my customers through which they can notify online sites that they are not allowed to play and should not be credited. It is not foolproof, but anything that blocks easy access to impulsive play is helpful.”

Whyte also recommends that problem gamblers set limits in advance on the amount of money they can spend on any given site, and he suggested anyone struggling with a gambling addiction call the National Council about problem gambling for confidential help by phone at 800-522-4700 or by chatting at www.ncpgambling.org/chat.

“We want to create as much awareness as possible,” explains Whyte, “to help players make an informed choice about reducing their risk of gambling problems and to create pathways to help them if they may have a problem. ”