Danger of under-regulated sports betting in the US

Lea Hogg 4 weeks ago
Danger of under-regulated sports betting in the US

In a report in The Guardian today, it was revealed that sports gambling in the United States is not only addictive but also under-regulated, and far from progressive. The recent lifetime ban of Jontay Porter, a centre for the Toronto Raptors, for violating betting rules is a stark reminder of the growing issue.

On Wednesday, the NBA announced that Porter was banned from the league for life. An investigation found that he disclosed confidential information to gamblers, exited a match early to influence an “over/under” wager on his stat line, and bet on games using a friend’s account. While Porter’s actions are serious and should not be trivialized, they are merely a symptom of a much larger problem.

The report in The Guardian states that sports are an integral part of our culture, and fair competition and the integrity of results are essential to it. However, the real threat to sports and the livelihoods of billions of fans lies with the leagues, special interests, and media outlets integrating addictive gambling with the games we love. The profit-seeking corporate encouragement of this behaviour needs to be countered with strict federal regulation before an emerging public health crisis gets even worse.

In the 2010s, the Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, and the state of New Jersey challenged the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (Paspa), which prohibited new state-sanctioned sports gambling. Legal books were limited to a few grandfathered states, like Nevada. At the time, the scope of illegal sports gambling was unclear, with some putting the number at $50 billion.

The US Supreme Court took on the case in 2018, ruling that Paspa was unconstitutional. Today, 38 states and the District of Columbia have made sports betting legal, with legislation pending in other areas. The dream of figures like the NBA’s Adam Silver, who immediately after becoming commissioner in 2014 published a New York Times op-ed advocating legalization, was fulfilled.

From bookies to big data and smartphone gambling

The report in today’s Guardian newspaper also sites early results have made billions for gambling companies, television networks, state governments, and players and owners alike. It’s been a nightmare, however, for millions of ordinary people.

The author of the report shared their personal experience with sports betting which evolved significantly over time.

 In their high school years, the process involved studying the Vegas lines in the Daily News and placing small bets with a local bookie. By the time they reached college, it had become a more complex process that involved navigating to an offshore gambling site, possibly converting some money to bitcoin, and placing a wager before the start of a match.

Today, the landscape of sports betting has been radically transformed by technology. Bets can now be seamlessly placed on smartphones, which have become an integral part of our lives. The betting process is no longer confined to the period before games; bets can now be placed on the outcome of every play, with AI models generating odds in real time.

Sports betting apps have become sophisticated data collectors, storing dozens of data points on every customer. They know what customers like to bet on, when to send them push notifications, and what offers can draw them back in if they haven’t gambled in a while. Like any drug, gambling activates the brain’s reward system. However, unlike most street-level dopamine-peddlers, these apps have access to the power of big data, enabling them to tailor their strategies to individual users. This highlights the need for stringent regulations to protect individuals from the potential harms of this increasingly pervasive industry.

Legalization does not just bring black markets into the light of day – it serves to radically expand markets. Nor do they have marketing departments. If you’ve watched a sports game, there’s no doubt you’ve seen advertisements from FanDuel, Draft Kings, BetMGM or any number of legal sportsbooks. They feature celebrities and athletes – people like Kevin Garnett, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Hart, Patton Oswalt and the entire Manning football dynasty – encouraging you to sign up and risk your wages. Podcasts at media networks like the Ringer are dedicated entirely to betting. ESPN, owned by the conservative Disney corporation, has even gone to the extreme of hosting its own sportsbook, ESPN BET.

The efforts are paying off. Last year, Americans legally wagered $120 billion on sports, up 27.5 percent compared with 2022. And billions more are probably still bet illegally. This sharp increase is a reminder that the unchecked rise of sports gambling in the US is a looming crisis that needs immediate attention. The time for action is now. We must ensure that the integrity of sports and the well-being of fans are not compromised by the unchecked rise of sports gambling.

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