By Peyton Majors
Christian Action League
September 8, 2022
New data indicating a nationwide increase in sports gambling addiction — driven by its prevalence on smartphones and mobile devices — should give North Carolina legislators pause in their push to legalize sports gambling, experts on the subject say.
This summer, the North Carolina House narrowly defeated (52-49) a bill that would have legalized betting on professional sports and out-of-state horse racing. The bill also would have allowed sports gambling on smartphones and mobile devices — making it easier to place a bet but also significantly increasing the potential for addiction, the bill’s opponents say.
Supporters are expected to bring the legislation back up in the future.
Critics of sports gambling say new data should impact the debate.
The National Problem Gambling Helpline (1-800-522-4700) said it experienced in 2021 a 45 percent increase in calls, an 85 percent increase in texts and a 117 percent increase in chats seeking help — most of the uptick driven by sports gambling. The average monthly user rate in 2022 is even bigger than that in 2021, the Helpline said.
“With the addition of sports gambling in many states still to come, we expect these numbers to continue to increase,” the Helpline reported.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, told NPR that money-hungry states are legalizing sports gambling but failing to regulate it. Gambling on mobile devices, he added, is a major lure for addicts.
“States are making so much money they’re falling over themselves to expand and expand in new and novel ways, like online and mobile,” Whyte said. “And rarely are they putting any sort of significant funding into counterbalancing that expansion with efforts to prevent and treat gambling addiction.”
Meanwhile, a Morning Consult survey indicated an 80 percent increase in the percentage of adults who said they bet on sports at least once a month — from 10 percent in January 2021 to 18 percent in the most recent poll. The percentage of adults who bet weekly more than doubled, from 5 percent to 12 percent.
“The $1.2 billion the sports betting industry reportedly spent on U.S. marketing is converting a significant number of occasional bettors into regular bettors and, to a lesser degree, bringing new bettors into the fold,” a Morning Consult analysis reported.
As of now, sports gambling in North Carolina is legal only at two tribal casinos in the western part of the state. Passage of sports gambling legislation, though, would legalize it in every county through companies such as DraftKings and also spark an increase in online, mobile ads.
Unlike it does with the tobacco and alcohol industries, the federal government does not regulate sports gambling ads. Tobacco companies, for example, are prohibited from marketing to children.
The lack of regulation means children and teenagers already see gambling ads on television during nationwide sports broadcasts — and will see even more ads if North Carolina embraces sports gambling. Legalization would lead to more targeted ads in online advertisements and social media.
“I’m telling you it is not the slightest hyperbole to say that if a sports gambling bill is passed in this state, the temptation to gamble and to gamble quite excessively will be everywhere and pervasive,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “There will be advertisements on TV, radio, billboards, smart phones, iPads, laptops, newspapers, websites. The addict, the weaker and more vulnerable, the poor and those looking for hope, will be lured in and fleeced. How can we agree to this and essentially say our neighbors are not our responsibility. I am my brother’s keeper.”
A 2021 study in the Journal of Gambling Studies found that problem gamblers “receive considerably more direct advertising” in emails and online ads, which only makes the addiction worse. Young people, the study found, are being targeted.
“Online popular culture is embedded with gambling content, and young people have a larger online presence,” the study said. “Young men have also reported that sports betting advertising target their lifestyle and identity, with a messaging that normalizes gambling involvement.”
Marc Edelman, a professor at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College in New York, suggested that ads for sports gambling should be prohibited when a large portion of a television audience is underage.
“If gambling is not legal for those who are under 21, then it probably would not make sense to allow advertising to be targeted on programming where a reasonable share of the population is under 21,” he told NPR.
Sports gambling companies lure customers by offering a so-called “risk-free” bet, although it comes with a catch. For example, a customer who bets and loses $100 of his or her own money would be given a credit to their account. Often, the company does not refund the money in cash.
“The advertising is just like the old beer ads and the cigarette ads that were on TV for years,” said Vin Bickler, a recovered problem gambler who now works on the helpline with the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, told NPR. “It’s the same situation, people being sucked into thinking that it’s glamorous, thinking they’re going to win, and they don’t win.”