The growing human cost of sports betting

We’re heading into the Super Bowl, a time of joy and anticipation for most sports fans. But not for everyone. Certainly not for Steven Delaney. He has no intention of watching the big game. Watching sports of all kinds might bring it back to mind.

“I’m staying away from it all,” Delaney, 37, a truck driver from Ballston Spa, NY, said last week. “I’m not talking about sports. I don’t read anything about sports. I don’t want to know the Super Bowl teams. It’s a risk I’m not prepared to take.

“I can lose everything,” he added.

Delaney struggles with addiction. His compulsion, which almost ruined his life: sports betting. He is hardly alone. According to Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, about 2% of Americans, or about 6.6 million people, struggle with gambling addiction. A growing number are betting on sports.

The floodgates opened in 2018 when the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that limited sports betting primarily in Nevada.

Today, approximately 30 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, allow online or in-person sports betting. This means that about 30% of Americans can place a legal bet on the Super Bowl where they live. In November, California residents will vote on whether or not to open their state to sports betting.

Sports betting is “rampant and acceptable and so common that it’s now a major pillar of American entertainment,” said Timothy Fong, one of the directors of the gambling studies program at UCLA. .

“The question,” he continued, “is what kind of impact is this going to have on our mental health, on our public health?”

Most of us can save some money, have fun, and get away with it. But not everyone.

When I contacted nearly a dozen people as young as 82 and as young as 17 in recovery for sports gambling addiction last week, I heard horror stories. They told me of broken families, lost jobs and foreclosed homes. They spoke of arrests, convictions, imprisonment and suicide. I’ve heard how dangerous this time of year is: the end of the college football season, the NFL playoffs, all the money that can be made in the Super Bowl, or, more likely, lost.

Delaney won’t look. “Not after everything I’ve been through,” he said.

A former Jets fan who once had a podcast discussing the team, Delaney developed a fantasy sports betting habit in 2007 with occasional games against friends. It became an obsession in 2019. “Everything was very accessible from my phone,” he said. “I started doing it compulsively. I’d win $5,000 and say, ‘Now I know what I’m doing. So I’d bet bigger and bigger. I’d lose big and start running to get it back. .

“It was like two people in my brain. Now I realize it was the addiction trying to fight who I really am. I would quit. So I was like, ‘I have to get this money back. I have to come back. to zero before my wife found out and my family found out.

He found the addiction easy to hide at first. delaney said his wife, Kelly, could sit next to him but didn’t know he was playing the family 401(k) on his phone.

His last bet came on May 2, 2021. Kelly caught it after reading an email regarding his account on a casino site. “It was like a relief,” he said. Tired of lying and showing that everything was fine, he got involved in consulting and Gamblers Anonymous. He even has a new podcast, “Fantasy or Reality? The GPP” (short for Gambling Problem Podcast), which aims to help addicted gamblers turn their lives around.

How did we get to a point where sports betting has become so alluring and all-encompassing?

It seems that every time we turn on the television or watch the internet, we are overwhelmed with advertisements promoting legalized sports betting and online casinos.

Sports betting ads are now bolstering results for broadcast rights holders, with their ads appearing during stoppage time and brand drops read on air by analysts gushing from parlays and point spreads in the frame. of the action of the game.

Casino advertisements can be spotted in every corner of the biggest stadiums. You can place bets on games at stadiums in Arizona and several other states, and some sites have even sold their naming rights to betting operations.

It’s a far cry from the tough stance against the game that the biggest professional sports leagues have maintained for decades. Football, basketball and baseball have all moved far away from the gambling world, partly out of fear that players will get addicted and end up throwing games to win large or clear debts with bookmakers.

In 1976, Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the NFL, said this: “Legalized gambling on sporting events is destructive to the sports themselves and, in the long run, detrimental to the public.”

In 2012, current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said: “It’s a very common view in the NFL – it’s been going on for decades – that the threat of gambling happening in the NFL or the game-fixing or any outcome could be influenced from the outside could be very damaging to the NFL and very difficult to recover from.

In 2015, he was still singing this tune: “We oppose the game. I don’t expect us to change that in the future.

Hypocrites. Now sports leagues and media companies are marching from casinos to banking with multi-million dollar partnerships.

The bitter truth of addiction is obscured by smarmy ads and compromising relationships, and yet federal oversight is downright non-existent.

Think about it. After years of consumer lawsuits and investigations that showed the tobacco industry was doing everything it could to get people hooked on a deadly product, the Food and Drug Administration severely restricted tobacco advertising. cigarettes: The last Marlboro Man commercial appeared in 1999. You can’t buy a pack of cigarettes without being confronted with a label warning that smoking can lead to cancer, lung disease, diabetes or other terrible diseases.

But if you tune in during Super Bowl week, be prepared to ingest an endless stream of carnival barker announcements. They will gush about how you can bet during the game on everything from the coin toss to who will be the first receiver to catch a pass. They will promote the fun of parlay betting and so-called risk-free betting, which is not risk-free at all.

There is a cost. It can be devastating.

About Rhonda Lee

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