By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
January 5, 2024
It’s a safe bet that your recent news feed included an article or two about new laws taking effect in North Carolina in 2024. It’s also a safe bet that one of those laws is anything but a safe bet, says the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
The League is warning North Carolinians now, before legalized sports gambling is up and running, to protect themselves and their teenage children from what’s to come, by steering clear of the gambling industry altogether.
Signed by Gov. Roy Cooper last summer amid much fanfare, the new law will allow sports betting and horse race wagering across the state as soon as the Lottery Commission has procedures in place, likely in time for March Madness and definitely by June. Gamblers will have the state’s blessing to bet on professional, college and Olympic-style sports on their electronic devices as well as in-person at large sports venues.
And while supporters of the law claim it could bring in $71 million a year by 2028 to benefit athletics initiatives and smaller sports programs in the UNC system, counselors and clinicians who treat problem gambling across the U.S. have different expectations.
“We’re killing the youth of America. It’s gotten crazy. Nobody cares,” counselor Arnie Wexler told The Guardian, which recently reported on the growing crisis of gambling addiction, especially among U.S. teens and young adults.
“A couple of years from now gambling is going to overtake alcohol and drugs,” Wexler warned.
Brad Ruderman, a counselor at the Beit T’Shuvah treatment center in Los Angeles, said the fact that gambling is getting to be a younger activity is especially troubling since the human brain does not typically finish developing until people are in their mid-20s. Younger gamblers are “very susceptible to dopamine, endorphin rushes,” he says. And, they can’t truly process the risks they are taking.
Gamblers Anonymous has noted a significant rise in younger people seeking help since sports gambling has gained popularity. And nowhere is the addiction crisis more obvious than in New Jersey, the state that fought for six years for the right to legalize sports betting. In fact, during the four years after the 2018 Supreme Court ruling gave states the authority to legalize sports betting, traffic on the New Jersey gambling helpline doubled.
According to The Guardian, in 2018, 11.5% of people who contacted New Jersey’s gambling support service and provided their age were under 25. During the first 10 months of last year, the under-25 bracket accounted for almost 20 percent of contacts in which an age was given.
Many in the addiction treatment community say the gambling industry should be held accountable and face tougher regulations.
Shekhar Saxena, former director of the World Health Organization’s mental health unit and now a global mental health professor at Harvard, said the industry uses a mix of peer and commercial pressure to draw young people into gambling.
“We know that young people like to experiment more. We also know that young people are much more in touch with, and influenced by, their peers,” he told The Guardian. “Because of their development stage, their resilience and the possibility to control their behavior is a little bit less.”
He said the industry works to exploit people’s vulnerabilities and to make them consume more by gearing products toward young people.
Although North Carolina’s Lottery Commission has reportedly included regulations that will ban terms such as “risk-free” and “free” from marketing materials, unless there is no material risk to players or their cash, people looking to engage in sports betting should take their own precautions to guard against getting pulled into the vice of gambling, Creech says.
The state will require that gambling companies offer a way that people can voluntarily put their names on a self-exclusion list. Each platform must also include a means for players to set a limit on their deposits and to activate time-out periods.
“It’s true that North Carolina’s law specifies that betting is allowed for those 21 and older, but unless parents are hypervigilant, these gambling apps are going to be on their children’s phones, dragging them into a habit that can rob them, not only of their money, but of their morals,” says the Rev. Creech.
Already, in North Carolina, reports show that 1 in 10 youth have a problem with gambling and another 15 to 20 percent are at risk of addiction. An NCAA survey found that nearly 60 percent of 18-to-22-year-olds polled have already placed sports bets, even while they were illegal.
Creech says sports, which have long served to bring people together by creating a sense of community and identity, will now be used to foster a culture of avarice and selfishness among not only fans, but also players and coaches.
“We can expect sports gambling to create an element of corruption and cheating. When large sums of money are at stake, individuals are more prone to bend and break the rules. Match-fixing, point-shaving, and other forms of cheating will erode the honor of the games,” he warns. “Over time, sports gambling will diminish the role of athletics as a source of inspiration and moral guidance for youth. Instead of inspiring them to work hard and chase after their dreams, sports will become substantially associated with gambling and quick fixes.”
He encourages parents to be proactive and talk to anyone in their household who has access to electronic devices, explaining the tactics of the industry and why gambling is not advisable.
Parenting expert and well-known author Lisa Damour advised listeners to her recent podcast on the subject of sports betting to be “very, very clear with teenagers that gambling is highly manipulative.”
“There’s a lot there that’s designed to convince them that they can get the leg up, that they can somehow beat the house. And so, I think as adults what we need to say is number one, the house always wins. Let us show you their revenues,” she said. “The other is that the way gambling works is designed to make it impossible for you to pull away.”
“We do need to be talking with them about gambling, how it works, how the house always wins, and how people can really get themselves in trouble,” Damour added.