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Is the US Sportsbook Boom a Recipe for Trouble?

Penny August 16, 2023

Gone are the days when bettors must visit a casino resort or retail sportsbook to get a slip with their picks on. Instead, now, this is a pastime that is largely online, with even long-standing brick-and-mortar businesses pivoting to a web-first approach. And that’s especially true in the United States. The 2018 overturning of prohibitive acts that blocked sports betting has allowed a number of states to see an explosion in sports betting. To some, this has been a gold rush – to others, this is a concerning development. But what does it really mean?

US Sports betting

Much has been made of the development of the iGaming industry over the last decade or two. The industry is one that has flourished as internet access became ubiquitous, moving from an entirely home-based endeavor to one that is taken everywhere in people’s pockets. With that ease of use, the online casino and sports betting market has become a global behemoth. 


Legal States Reporting Problem Gambling Numbers

According to a report by the Financial Times, a number of US states that have liberalized their stance on sports betting are reporting increases in the numbers of their citizens defined as problem gamers. In New Jersey, it is claimed that around 20% of gamblers exhibit some form of problematic behavior in their gaming, while Pennsylvania’s citizens self-reported problematic gaming at a rate of 36%. Those numbers are concerning public health officials, especially given that they are based on players recognizing their own harmful behaviors. An entirely objective and impartial observation could return even higher rates of problematic gaming. In that FT report, one lobbyist Brianne Doura-Schawohl described the current environment as “not your grandmother’s gambling” as ubiquity and innovation drive a more competitive, fast-paced industry.


The 21st Century has been defined widely by a 24-hour news cycle approach to media. And that extends to sports, which is part of the concern around a slide into problem gambling. As the internet has opened up the ability to view live sports from around the world and follow teams and competitions intently, that has had a knock-on effect on the ancillary sport industry of betting. Data highlighted by USA Today showed that around 20% of people who were betting on sports would do so daily, and more than 70% would make a wager weekly. Even more concerning was that nearly 80% of a group of young bettors interviewed said that they believed that sports betting was a good way to make money or were unsure. This explains the growing clamor for more oversight in the industry and more resources for those that could be struggling to manage their relationship with gambling.


Education, Resources, and Empowerment Key to Success

While it would be easy to read the statistics that are coming out of states with legal sports betting and worry that any new measures implemented would be like locking the door when the horse has already bolted, it’s time for state legislatures to work together to create a robust set of regulations, according to experts. Earlier this year, Forbes reported that congressman Paul Tonko was proposing a bill that would ban electronic (including online) advertisements for gambling operators. While it’s yet to be seen whether this will be pushed through, it is based on research that suggested excessive advertisement was a precursor for compulsive gambling, especially in younger players, and follows several jurisdictions in Europe that are implementing bans on the promotion of the gambling industry. A number of sports leagues across the continent are implementing partial bans on its teams promoting gaming operators, either through sponsorships or pitch-side advertisements.


Ultimately, though, curbing promotion isn’t going to be successful on its own. Instead, there needs to be a full complement of measures adopted. In particular, resources that give power to the player affected through agency and information are key to a healthier industry. Currently, most operators will allow players to exclude themselves from being able to play at platforms and will impose a ban for a set amount of time, preventing the affected from gambling with them. This is common across all jurisdictions and is commonly the backbone of any suggested player protection programs. The Associated Press recently spoke with a few people affected by gambling and it was highlighted that education at high school level could help prevent the adoption of problematic behaviors in a younger demographic. Several states are reported to be looking to introduce risk education in an effort to give young people the resources to make a more informed decision. It could be that the next few years see the introduction of a number of new initiatives as the landscape continues to evolve.

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