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  • Writer's pictureDr. CK Bray

The Rise of Sports Betting and the Brain


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I am going to get a lot of flack about this blog, especially from many of my pickleball and Arizona Suns Fans. Needless to say, I myself have seen a big rise in sports betting amongst people I associate with, so I thought I would find out what is going on. Read on....it might shock you.

 

As the MLB season ramps up and the NBA season winds down, both leagues are making headlines with rather unusual gambling scandals. Recently, ESPN disclosed that over $4.5 million was transferred to an illegal bookmaker from the account of Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Dodgers' star player. His interpreter and close friend took the blame and was swiftly dismissed. Meanwhile, the NBA is investigating Toronto Raptors' bench player Jontay Porter after a suspicious surge in prop bets on his performance during two games earlier this year, both of which he left prematurely.

 

These incidents involving Ohtani and Porter are seen as wake-up calls regarding the rapid expansion of gambling in recent years, highlighting a potential existential threat to the integrity of sports. However, this is only part of the broader issue. Six years after the Supreme Court's decision to allow states to legalize sports gambling, its detrimental impact on American society is evident. The entanglement of leagues, team owners, and politicians with the gambling industry makes addressing these issues challenging.

 

Since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling, 38 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have legalized sports gambling. Many have also approved mobile betting through apps like DraftKings and FanDuel. In states like New York, placing a bet is as simple as downloading an app, making betting opportunities nearly unavoidable for sports fans. In Washington, D.C., a Caesar’s sportsbook operates within the arena where the Wizards and Capitals play, making betting even more accessible.

 

In recent years, especially since the pandemic, sports have become heavily associated with gambling. Advertisements for bookmakers are pervasive, and many sports programs and events are sponsored by them. Viewers are constantly exposed to information, such as baseball’s dubious “win probability,” subtly encouraging them to place bets. Watching sports in 2024 often means being reminded to gamble.

 

This has led to a growing addiction problem. The Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling reported a 91 percent increase in calls in 2022, largely due to the convenience of mobile sports betting. Diana Goode, the council's director, explained that previously, gambling required effort, but now it’s as easy as using an app. Similarly, New Jersey’s Council on Compulsive Gambling has seen hotline calls triple since gambling was legalized in 2019. College athletes also face harassment from disgruntled bettors.

 

Additionally, gambling may exacerbate other issues. A study by the University of New Mexico’s Center on Alcohol, Substance Use, and Addictions found a strong correlation between binge drinking and sports gambling. Joshua Grubbs, a professor at UNM, warned that sports gambling poses greater risks than other types of gambling due to its link to problematic alcohol use.

 

Despite these issues, the gambling industry is thriving. According to the American Gaming Association, sportsbooks had their third consecutive record year in 2023, with revenue up 45 percent to nearly $11 billion. The industry spends heavily on lobbying to maintain this growth, with the AGI alone spending nearly $9 million since 2019.

 

The financial benefits of gambling make it appealing to politicians, as it promises tax revenue for struggling states. Once states become dependent on this revenue, it’s difficult to abandon. Similarly, leagues and team owners benefit from gambling revenue as it offsets losses from declining TV viewership and waning interest from younger generations. The NFL, for instance, earns $132 million annually from gambling-related sponsorships, a significant increase from 2018.

 

However, the American Gaming Association dismisses concerns about gambling addiction. President Bill Miller told 60 Minutes that he doesn't believe mobile betting is more addictive than other phone activities and suggested that any apparent increase in addiction might be due to better identification of at-risk individuals.

 

While more gambling scandals are likely, the larger issue remains the widespread embrace of sports gambling, which is causing addiction, financial ruin, and societal problems. Politicians and sports leagues are complicit in this, yet they refuse to acknowledge or address the problem.

 

Tools and Resources to Quit Gambling:

 

National Problem Gambling Helpline: Call 1-800-522-4700 for confidential help and support.

 

Gamblers Anonymous: A 12-step program that offers support groups for people struggling with gambling addiction. Visit gamblersanonymous.org.

 

Self-Exclusion Programs: Many states and online platforms offer programs that allow you to exclude yourself from gambling activities.

 

Therapy and Counseling: Seek help from a mental health professional specializing in addiction.

 

Financial Counseling: Get help managing debt and financial issues caused by gambling from organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (nfcc.org).

 

Support from Family and Friends: Don’t hesitate to reach out to your loved ones for support and accountability.


 

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