A Casino in Your Pocket

The growth of online sports betting among young people has seen a rapid rise since it became legal just a few years ago.

Words by Nate Eisenmann | Photo by Unsplash

The 2023 Super Bowl was the most legally-bet-on sports event in history, with more than 100 million bets placed over Super Bowl weekend, according to GeoComply. Now that sports betting has largely shifted online, it’s more accessible than ever. But it wasn’t always legal.

2018 Supreme Court ruling

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) banned sports betting nationwide, minus a few states, like Nevada. The Supreme Court overturned PASPA in 2018 because it was said to violate states’ rights. A year later, Iowa legalized sports betting. Back then, you’d have to register in-person at a casino, but since 2021, you can both register and bet online.

“People don’t want to have to travel to a casino,” says Adam Candee, managing editor of Legal Sports Report, which covers legal online sports betting. “They like being able to bet before a game and during a game, which is much more accessible.”

DraftKings, Caesars, FanDuel, and BetMGM, are the four major sportsbook apps in the U.S. that bettors use, according to Candee, and it’s easy to sign up.

“You have to provide certain information — who you say you are, if you’re of a legal age, and make sure you don’t happen to pop up on an exclusion list of people who have a problem gambling,” he says.

More regulation?

Another reason sports betting became legal was so the government could more easily track who was betting and how much was being bet.

“As legal sports betting expands across the U.S., it’s vital for everyone involved in that expansion to take problem gambling very seriously,” Candee says. “It’s in the best interest of sportsbooks and those legalizing sports betting that awareness around problem gambling needs to be funded.”

Major sportsbook apps let you set limits on how much time you spend in the app or how much money you deposit into your account to place on bets. In most states, there are also self-exclusion lists that someone can add their name to in order to stop gambling. In Iowa, a person can choose to be self-excluded for a period of five years or life.

“If you have a lapse of will, you would be able to keep yourself from gambling. It looks different in every state,” Candee says.

Problem gambling

Organizations like the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) advocate to mitigate gambling-related harm. Director of Communications Cait Huble says the group works with federal and state governments, treatment facilities, the gambling industry, nonprofits, and professional sports teams.

“The rapid expansion of legal sports gambling has shifted our advocacy work into high gear,” Huble says. “There are still no federal funds from the almost $8 billion in federal gambling tax revenue earmarked for problem gambling research or treatment, unlike drug, alcohol, and tobacco addiction, which receive billions of dollars of federal funding each year.”

Symptoms of addiction include betting increasingly more money or not being able to stop. In extreme cases, she says problem gambling can lead to financial ruin, legal problems, or even suicide. Huble notes the rise in sports betting addictions since its legalization. As the industry expands, so does the risk of gambling problems.

“Between 2018 and 2021, the NCPG estimates that the risk of gambling addiction grew by 30 percent,” she says. “The NCPG has also seen significant increases in calls, texts, and chats to our national helpline — roughly a 45 percent increase in calls between 2021 and 2022.”

Betting safely

Jacob Mohlis started when Caesars became the first legal sportsbook in Iowa, back when he was studying sports marketing and management at the University of Dubuque.

“For bettors just starting out that want to keep units light and bet for fun, I would recommend not setting up an auto- deposit from your credit card,” Mohlis says. “Allowing auto- deposit can make you too comfortable putting money in and lose track of how much. This can be very harmful to your bank account.”

After the 2023 Super Bowl smashed previous records, next year could see an even larger increase. More than half of U.S. states have legalized online sports betting and lawmakers in states like Minnesota and Missouri are hoping to do so in the coming years.

The National Problem Gambling Helpline Network, which can be reached by calling 1-800-GAMBLER, is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is 100 percent confidential.

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