Experts Worry That Legalized Sports Betting Will Create More Addiction

By Victoria Kim 05/17/18

"We’re going to have a volcano of gambling addiction in America,” says one expert.

Man betting on sports on his tablet

Will legalized sports betting lead to more problems with addiction?

That’s a concern shared by experts on gambling addiction, who worry that Monday’s Supreme Court ruling to allow sports betting will only create more people who struggle with a gambling disorder.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to lift a 1992 federal ban on sports betting, giving states the option to legalize the act. Prior to this ruling, only in Nevada could people bet on the outcome of a single game, according to ESPN.

The court’s decision goes against the favor of the major leagues including the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball—who worry that legalized sports betting will put the integrity of games at risk.

However, supporters of the ruling, including the American Gaming Association, claim it is “a victory for the millions of Americans who seek to bet on sports in a safe and regulated manner,” citing the $150 billion illicitly wagered on sports each year.

But those who are familiar with gambling addiction are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of legalized sports gambling.

“We’ve opened up a real circus here,” said Arnie Wexler, author and former executive director of the Council for Compulsive Gambling. “You’re going to have so many people addicted to gambling in the next couple of years, it’s going to be crazy. We’re going to have a volcano of gambling addiction in America.”

Wexler, who has been involved in the treatment of gambling addiction since the 1970s, argues that people who otherwise would avoid gambling will now have a reason to start if it’s legal.

“You’ve got people today that would never, ever gamble with a bookmaker and never do anything illegal, and now you’re making it legal,” he told USA Today. “They’re going to be all over this sports betting thing.”

Some have called for a percentage of gambling revenues to go toward funding treatment programs and public education.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, proposed a “national safety net” funded by 1% of legal gambling revenue to fund treatment/prevention of gambling addiction.

Already, the cost of gambling addiction is high. Last year, it hit about $7 billion, most of it stemming from health care and criminal justice.

But the potential for funding treatment/prevention for gambling addiction is also high. Just last year, Whyte said, states generated $71 million that went toward treatment and prevention—that came from less than a tenth of a percent of the total annual revenue ($115 billion) from legal gambling.

Learn more about gambling addiction.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr