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Is a Tsunami of Gambling Addiction Approaching?

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law that restricted states from allowing sports wagering. In Murphy v. NCAA, the court voted 6-3 to throw out the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 which Congress passed to discourage sports gambling. The result was predictable:

The recent Supreme Court decision opens the door to legalized sports betting, and in the coming weeks and months, many significant events will occur as the states scramble to pass laws and regulations to accommodate the public demand for sports betting.

Just take a look at this graph of U.S. sports betting from The Economist. It looks like the Loch Ness Monster:

The chart takes off from less than $2 billion a year annual rate in early 2020 to a nearly $8 billion annual rate during the 2021 NFL season. Eighty-seven percent of 2021 sports wagering was done online. Right behind the sudden growth of gambling at your fingertips comes gambling addiction.

Swift legalisation means that America may well face a parallel rise in gambling addiction. Sports bettors are twice as likely as other gamblers to become addicted. Live online betting makes it easier to bet faster and more frequently, leading to riskier gambling.

The State of Louisiana’s Office of Behavioral Health tracks problem sports betting through support programs and estimates that “2.9% of Louisiana residents meet severe problem gambling criteria and another 5.4% of residents may have a gambling problem.” Those numbers are huge, and the treatment options aren’t great.

“Even with all the attention given to the opioid crisis, there are still treatment centers closing, so I do not see an immense growth coming in gambling treatment,” says Marti Paulson, CEO of Project Turnabout, a nonprofit that operates a residential gambling treatment program, in an article for Behavioral Health Business.

Medicaid, Medicare, and even private insurers do not cover treatment for gambling addiction beyond the treatments offered for substance use disorder or mental health disorders, according to Behavioral Health Business. It seems that America is unprepared for the difficulties that smartphone sports gambling is causing in the population.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published December 12, 2023.


“Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Decision Paves the Way For Legalized Sports Betting,” ArcherLaw, 2018.

“Sports betting in America is exploding,” The Economist, February 2022.

“With Gambling Addiction Soaring, Providers Struggle to Launch Sustainable Treatment Programs,” Behavioral Health Business, December 2023.

Image Copyright: sinenkiy.

Chart Copyright: The Economist, used under Fair Use: Commentary.



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