Last Sunday, a report on 60 Minutes examined the growth of sports betting in the United States, with a focus on the dangers of gambling addiction. Half of young men who place bets regularly with online sportsbooks claim they are wagering more than they can afford to lose, according to a study cited in the segment aired on CBS on Feb. 4.
But while 60 Minutes rightfully brought attention to the concerns of sports betting addiction, it chose hype over fair-handedness. Currently, there is little to no evidence that more legal sports betting markets have led to an increase in gambling addiction.
The news program neglected to mention that illegal sports betting is far more dangerous to the public than a regulated market. Also, no studies have yet emerged with data showing the prevalence of legal sports betting is creating more gambling addiction or that the two are correlated.
Regulated Markets Protect Consumers from Illegal Sportsbooks
Legal sports betting markets are now active in more than 30 states, with more coming. If you relied solely on reports like the one from 60 Minutes, you’d think it was a reckless decision to allow gambling on sports, especially on mobile phones.
But like other activities, gambling benefits the regulation. The state sets the guidelines, vets the sports betting companies and their employees, and enforces the laws.
It’s the state that issues penalties for noncompliance with betting laws. It’s the state that ensures sports betting operators advertise their products responsibly. And it’s the state’s regulators that make sure those operators offer responsible gambling messaging.
Like alcohol and tobacco, two “vices” that have been heavily regulated for decades, sports betting is safer because it exists within the oversight of gaming commissions.
Illegal sportsbooks, some of which still lurk to entice unwitting consumers, target underage customers and offer no safeguards to the public. Consumers have no recourse if they are defrauded by illegal sportsbooks, often tied to covert criminal enterprises.
More Research is Needed to Assess the Impact of Legal Sports Betting
Are there more people addicted to gambling in the US since legal sports betting began to sweep the nation? Yes, but that’s because far more sports bettors are making bets in a regulated market. As of yet, we don’t know if there is an increase in the percentage of people addicted to the activity.
When sports betting was limited, before the 2018 US Supreme Court decision that permitted states to legalize it as they saw fit, most people who wagered in the US did so with bookies or offshore sportsbooks. That type of market was not producing data on user activity, so we don’t know what the percentage of gambling addiction was. It will take a few years before researchers can assess the impact of legal sports betting.
Ironically, legal sports betting markets are generating millions of dollars to fund the research on gambling in the United States, money that wasn’t there previously. You wouldn’t know it by the 60 Minutes story, but tax revenue from sports betting operators is the lifeblood for new, groundbreaking research on the issue.
Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Necessarily the Bogeyman
The 60 Minutes segment began with a voiceover that emphasized the supposed damage sports betting can inflict on young male consumers:
As America gears up for the Super Bowl on February 11, Jon Wertheim investigates the growing and often addictive hold online sports betting has on young men…when impetuous 22-year olds making snap bets go up against gambling corporations armed with armed with data banks, artificial intelligence, and engineering the result is often a mismatch.
The tone is that the evil sportsbooks use artificial intelligence to trap consumers in a lose-lose situation. AI is a hot topic, with American consumers being told to fear the technology. But this ignores the fact that AI systems have existed for years and help us use many products better.
Transportation, health care, and banking are just a few industries that rely heavily on AI. Search engines, which assist consumers in finding resources and planning, are heavily reliant on AI – mainly for the benefit of the public.
Characterizing AI as an inherent danger without explaining its benefits seems like a flippant way to feed on fear.
Responsible Gaming is Better Positioned Than Ever
According to a 2022 Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association survey, 48% of sports bettors are males between 18 and 34. 60 Minutes claims young men are most at risk for gambling addiction. That could be the case, but pillorying sportsbooks as predatory is not the answer.
States are gathering tax revenue from sports betting, some earmarked for responsible gambling programs. Never before has RG messaging been so visible. Regulators in every state with legal sports betting are vigilant in requiring adherence to their RG policies.
One example is the near absence of the phrase “free bets” after states determined it misrepresented the risk of the activity. Only via regulatory efforts can such progress be made.
The future of sports betting is sure to see more growth and innovation. But like other markets based on consumer behavior (think drinking and smoking), the legal path is the best way to ensure safety for the consumer. We must ensure that hysterical warnings don’t drown out the message.