How sports betting has increased predatory gambling across the U.S.

The high cost to poorer communities

February 11, 2022

A record 31.4 million American adults plan to bet on Super Bowl LVI, a 35% increase from 2021, according to new research by the American Gaming Association. While half that number is casual bets among friends, 18.2 million will place traditional sports wagers online, at a retail sportsbook, or with a bookie. This is an increase of 78% from the 2021 Super Bowl.

For the past several years Americans have been increasingly exposed to predatory gambling, the practice of using gambling to prey on human weakness for profit. Unfortunately, rather than protect the vulnerable, state governments are colluding with the profiteers to exploit ​​their citizens. For-profit gambling, or commercial gambling, is illegal unless granted special legal exemption by the government — which many states are increasingly willing to provide. 

Until three years ago, Nevada was the only state in which a person could legally wager on the results of a game. But in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal ban on sports betting was unconstitutional. The vote in the case of Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association was 6-3, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting. That decision opened the floodgates for legalized sports betting. 

Currently, 45 million Americans can legally wager in their home state. The states where sports betting is currently legal are Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Washington D.C. North Carolina and New Mexico have limited sports betting via tribal casinos. Mississippi also allows online sports betting, but only on-site at licensed casinos. Maryland, Nebraska, and Ohio are likely to legalize sports betting by the end of 2022 or early 2023. 

Because of these changes in state law, gamblers across the U.S. can wager on various sports competitions at a sportsbook. Over the past few years, advertising for sportsbooks such as FanDuel, Caesars, and DraftKings has become ubiquitous in states that allow sports betting. The advertising is prominently displayed on subways, buses, and buildings and heard constantly on radio and television. According to research, 106 million American adults (41%) recall advertising related to gambling in the past year — an increase of 32 million people (12%) from 2020. 

The human cost of predatory gambling

States are reaping the benefits in the form of increased tax revenues. But the human cost is largely being ignored. According to experts, federal and state governments still devote few resources to tracking and treating people with gambling problems.

“It’s this ticking time bomb,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “We have to take action now, but the problem is almost impossible to quantify.”

State governments continue to legalize predatory gambling despite decades of research that it is destructive to their communities. For instance, the National Gambling Impact Study estimated the lifetime divorce rates for problem and pathological gamblers were 39.5% and 53.5% respectively; the same rate for non-gamblers was 18.2%. And a study that looked at the spread of casino gambling in 300 Metropolitan Statistical Areas found that the presence of a casino reduces voluntarism, civic participation, family stability, and other forms of social capital within 15 miles of a community where it is located.

According to a study by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, the poorer the neighborhood, the higher the risk for problem gambling. In areas with the highest “neighborhood disadvantage” — determined by census factors such as the percentage of people who were unemployed, received public assistance, and/or live in poverty — more than 11% were problem gamblers, compared to just 5% in neighborhoods ranking in the top fifth of economic advantage.

Numerous studies demonstrate disparities in health and health services including problem and pathological gambling among ethnic and racial minority groups. Overall, gambling activities appear to be frequent among ethnic and minority populations with rates ranging between 12.9 and 87%. The prevalence of gambling disorders have been reported as low as 0.3% in Hispanics and as high as 58% in South East Asian refugees. 

One survey ​​found that Black Americans spend nearly twice as much on lottery tickets as do white or Hispanic respondents. The average reported expenditure among Blacks was $200 per year, $476 among those who played the lottery the previous year. Black men have the highest average expenditures. Poor Americans also spend a larger percentage of their wealth on lottery tickets than other households, leading to a reduction in spending on other activities. During the time 21 states implemented a state lottery, household expenditures declined 2.4% for expenses not related to gambling. The implication is that households spent that money on lottery tickets rather than on other goods and services.

Without the legal, administrative, regulatory, and promotional advantages provided by state governments, predatory gambling would not be spreading so quickly into mainstream American life as they are today, and would likely still exist only on the fringes of the society.

How Christians can respond

Christians should care about the effects of predatory gambling on their neighbors. Governments are entrusted with seeking the welfare of their citizens, not exploiting their weaknesses. There are several things you can do to help stop the spread of this type of gambling: