Access to sports betting in the US has exploded since 2018 – and we’re only just beginning to learn about the impact

Wizards fan and season ticket holder David Dwornik holds up his 1973 ticket from the first game of Season 1 of the Washington Bullets while speaking during a ceremony after William Hill US opened a sportsbook betting site at Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s Capital One Arena Box office in Washington, Monday, August 3, 2020. Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP

For most of US history, sports betting has been rare.

Some people have certainly betted on sports illegally through a bookmaker or placed bets in the few places where it was legal such as. B. in Nevada.

However, gambling policy took a sharp turn in 2018 when the Supreme Court ruled that each state in the US has the right to legalize or ban sports betting as it sees fit.

The impact of this ruling was quick, with many states introducing legislation legalizing sports betting within months. Four years later, more than 30 states have legalized sports betting, and many more are working towards legalizing it in the near future.

This wave of legalized sports betting has opened the floodgates to new gambling opportunities. Not surprisingly, many Americans have expressed concern that increasing access to sports betting will create an influx of people with new gambling problems.

We are clinical psychologists and professors researching behavioral addictions such as compulsive sexual behavior disorder and gambling disorder. We recently launched a new line of research on sports betting in the US. Our initial results show how many Americans play sports betting and the demographic most likely to do so.

On Monday, May 14, 2018, in Las Vegas, people line up to place bets at the South Point Hotel-Casino sports book. Photo: John Locher/AP

The many forms of sports betting

Before we talk about this study, it’s important to clarify what we mean when we talk about sports betting. Like most other forms of gambling, it can take many different forms. Traditional sports betting refers to betting on the outcome of sporting events. These bets can be placed on who will win a game, the number of points that decided the game or the game total.

Beyond the traditional form, sports betting can also include wagering on esports, which are professional competitive video games. It can also be a paid fantasy league game, which refers to people who “design” virtual teams of players and compete against other participants’ virtual teams over the course of a sports season.

Finally, sports betting can also include participation in daily fantasy league games. This form of betting is similar to regular fantasy leagues, but players select new teams on a weekly basis and compete against each other week-to-week instead of for an entire season.

Young men in danger

In early 2022, we embarked on a long-term research project to study who plays esports in the United States and how their gaming behavior changes over time.

We worked with polling and data analytics firm YouGov America to recruit a nationally representative sample of over 2,800 American adults. We also collected another representative sample of over 1,500 American adults who had recently wagered on sports.

We interviewed these two samples and asked them about their sports betting behavior and a range of other mental health issues. We also asked about symptoms of gambling disorder, an addictive disorder characterized by excessive or out-of-control gambling behavior.

We have just published our first round of insights from the early stages of this work.

In this first article, we tried to find out who was most likely to play sports betting and how sports betting is related to problem gambling. Importantly, we didn’t just ask these people if they “betted on sports.” We also asked about participating in fantasy sports, daily fantasy sports leagues, and betting on esports.

Football fans follow the action on wall-mounted video screens in the sportsbook lounge at the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, NJ, where an hour-long line of gamblers waiting to place bets stretched out on the casino floor as kick-off began on Sunday, March 9th 9, 2018, the first full day of NFL football since New Jersey began offering sports betting in June 2018. Photo: Wayne Parry/AP

In our nationally representative sample, we found that only a fraction of Americans have wagered on sports recently. Although 17.2% of Americans say they have wagered on sports in their lifetime, only 6.2% say they have done so in the past year. Likewise, only 5.9% reported participating in a paid fantasy sports league in the past year, only 4.2% reported participating in daily fantasy sports leagues, and only 4.1% reported claim to have bet on eSports in the past year.

In short, sports betting is still a relatively rare activity in the US, and our data doesn’t necessarily show an increase in prevalence rates 20 years ago.

But we also looked at who was most likely to bet on sports. Across all forms of sports betting, we have found that younger college educated men with higher incomes are more likely to bet on sports than other Americans.

Finally, we examined whether sports betting was associated with symptoms of gambling disorder. Again, our results were pretty clear: traditional sports betting, daily fantasy league matches, and betting on esports were all associated with much higher odds of being categorized as medium or high risk players.

Put simply, these forms of sports betting are risk factors for also having problems with gambling.

A look into the future

Taken together, our results don’t necessarily suggest that sports betting is leading to a wave of new players across the country. Even among those who bet on sports, most seem to do so with no ill effects.

However, sports betting is associated with symptoms of a gambling disorder, meaning it is risky behavior – perhaps similar to drinking alcohol or other forms of gambling, such as playing slot machines. Most people who engage in any of these behaviors will do so with no problem. But for some people, access to sports betting is likely to lead to the development of gambling disorder symptoms.

As researchers and clinicians, we’re particularly concerned about this possibility: Any increase in people seeking help for gaming disorder could overwhelm the nation’s treatment centers, which already feel overwhelmed and underfunded.

Because of this, we think it’s important to quickly identify people who are at risk of developing gaming problems. This is one of our main goals in our ongoing study on sports betting. By identifying who is most likely to develop a gambling problem, we hope to influence policymakers and gambling industry professionals to help put safeguards in place that protect those at risk.The conversation

Joshua B. Grubbs is an associate professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University and Shane Kraus is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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