People in our area love betting on sports. Pennsylvania and New Jersey hold two of the top three spots for total amount spent on sports wagers. (The other state is Nevada.)
Since sports betting became widely legal in 2018, it’s grown into more of a national pastime; next month, Americans may spend more money than ever betting on games. This increase in activity has come with a shocking increase in sports betting advertising. FanDuel, DraftKings, and Caesars Entertainment each spent more than $15 million on national ads between Sept. 9 and Oct. 17.
Many of these ads appear during actual games, so no sports fan — including those recovering from gambling addictions — can avoid the enticement to place a bet. Plus, all those ads can get annoying.
We asked two local experts to weigh in: Should sports betting ads be banned during games?
Yes: Ads are a trigger for people with gambling addictions.
By Eric Webber
Sports betting has exploded since 2018. About 30 states have since legalized sports betting, most of which allow online sports betting. Naturally, a lot of that activity comes with extensive advertising for sports betting.
At the same time, the national problem gambling help line, 1-800-GAMBLER, has seen the number of calls nearly double, receiving an average of 22,000 calls a month in 2021 compared with 14,000 calls a month the year before. For more people, a pastime is becoming a problem.
I see this in my practice as well. As a counselor who works with both chemical and behavioral addictions, the number of people who come to me for help with sports gambling has dramatically increased in recent years. We are seeing a staggering surge in the amount of time and money spent on gambling, and ultimately the toll it takes on families and relationships.
To address this problem before it becomes a runaway train, we must ban sports betting advertising during games. Such bans are not unheard of: In the U.K., sports betting ads cannot appear during game broadcasts, known as a “whistle-to-whistle” ban. Spain outlawed betting ads on players’ jerseys or on stadium names, and Italy has banned all gambling ads since 2019.
In the U.S., we have also put limits on advertisements for many other vices, such as tobacco use, where there is a compelling public health need. Like smoking, gambling is a public health threat, and our advertising policy should reflect that.
Gambling addiction is like other addictions. The reward center of the brain is hijacked, to the point where gambling becomes an obsession that blocks out all other thoughts. Just as an individual with alcohol use disorder can’t stop at one drink, someone with a gambling addiction will gamble beyond all rational thought.
Therefore, advertisements for sports betting during games are a substantial trigger for those suffering or recovering from a gambling addiction. These ads, like ads for any product, are designed to entice people by glamorizing gambling. Everybody looks happy and they’re having a good time. If any risks are mentioned, they are all in exceptionally fine print.
I often hear from my patients that it doesn’t feel like they’re using real money when they bet online. It feels just like a video game until the credit card bill arrives and the charge is for $5,000 or more, when all they remember is making $50 or $100 bets. It gets out of control quickly.
“The influx of ads creates a culture where gambling is normalized.”
Banning sports betting advertising during games will help protect those who are especially vulnerable. They may still place bets before the game, but they will be more likely to wait to see the outcome. They won’t be enticed to “make the game more exciting” by betting on whether the next play is a turnover, or a three-pointer, or a home run.
Additionally, the influx of ads creates a culture where gambling is normalized. Many children and teenagers who regularly watch sports are already too comfortable with online gaming and shopping. Making sports betting such an integral part of the game-watching experience surely overexposes their developing brains to gambling at a very early age, and may even desensitize them to the very real dangers of betting.
We need to take a hard look at this issue now before it gets even more out of hand, take additional mitigation measures, and protect the vulnerable in our communities from the siren call of online sports betting. We should ban sports betting advertising during games.
Eric Webber is a senior clinician at Caron Treatment Centers in Wernersville, Pa.
No: Gambling ads are no worse than ads for liquor, drugs, or unhealthy foods.
By Howard Gensler
I watched a lot of pro football over the weekend and saw a lot of commercials for sports betting. A lot. Too many? Probably. But sports betting is the shiny new toy of American capitalism, and the big-money players in the industry want to make sure everyone knows they no longer have to call up Bennie the Bookie to make their wagers. And Bennie never offered a risk-free bet!
When Viagra was launched, it seemed like there was a commercial for that every 10 minutes. Now everyone who watches pro football knows about Viagra. Live in-game betting is the new Viagra.
Once the Supreme Court took the cuffs off of sports betting in this country, it’s been a tsunami of states trying to legalize this new tax revenue source. New York just went live. Like legalized cannabis, it’s one of the country’s few growth industries, and the dozen or so nationwide players are spending billions on customer acquisition. A lot of that takes place during sports or sports-related broadcasts because that’s where the sports fans are.
Is this potentially a problem for people with addictive personalities who may be prone to gamble? Perhaps. But welcome to America, where the economy is designed by multinational corporations to suck every last dollar out of the pockets of working folks. How about all those ads with cute groundhogs selling lottery tickets?
Sports betting is legal now, and the glut of advertising we’re seeing for it is no different than that for tequila, beer, drugs for previously unknown ailments, unhealthy foods, unnecessary beauty products, expensive sports cars dangerously speeding across icy terrain, and more. Are sports betting ads during sporting events any different from ads for reverse mortgages and psychics, preying upon insomniacs at 3 in the morning? And unlike the billions spent on political advertising each year, at least the sports betting ads are honest. They provide a service that humans have been partaking in for millennia. Back then, Caesar was betting on chariot races. Now, Caesars is running ads in which the Manning football family tells you to only wager what you can afford and who to call if you have a problem.
“Are sports betting ads during sporting events any different from ads for reverse mortgages and psychics, preying upon insomniacs at 3 in the morning?”
Gambling isn’t a vice like smoking, which is not allowed to advertise on TV. It does not impact your skin, lungs, and heart — except to get your heart racing when your points spread bet is too close for comfort. There’s no such thing as getting sick from secondhand sports betting, and unlike drinking, you can safely drive home after putting too much of your paycheck down on the Eagles. Worst-case scenario is that too much sports betting can leave you broke — kind of like paying for health care.
But let’s look on the bright side: The new wave of legal sports betting is employing many, many thousands of people, its taxation will help fund schools and other worthy causes depending on your state, and it’s teaching many tech-challenged adults how to use apps on their phone.
There’s one other way that sports betting is safer now than it used to be: It is all prepaid. The legal books won’t place your wager unless you have money or a credit card in your account. In the prelegal days, your buddy Bennie may take a bet on an IOU, and if that wager lost and you didn’t make good, Bennie might bust your nose.
Howard Gensler is the cofounder and editor of bettorsinsider.com and also writes for other gambling websites.