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March Madness: America’s Out of Control Smartphone Gambling Addiction

As we enter the final weeks of the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s “March Madness” championship tournament, America seems to have lost its mind over smartphone gambling.

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to states legalizing gambling in 2018, and today 38 states have authorized some form of sports betting. Emily Stewart, writing for Business Insider, estimates that Americans legally bet an astonishing $120 billion on sports in 2023. That’s a 28% increase from 2022, with $23 billion bet on the Super Bowl alone.

According to a recent article by Wayne Parry, who covers gambling for the Associated Press, 2.5 million Americans meet the criteria for severe gambling problems laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). New England Public Media correspondent Karen Brown, on NPR News, put the number at 7 million Americans with a gambling problem, and fewer than 1% in treatment.

Parry points out that sports leagues, who were staunch opponents of sports betting, have become big supporters now that they receive a piece of the action:

[T]he leagues — who bitterly fought against legalizing sports betting beyond the four states that allowed in before 2018 — have become business partners with the biggest gambling outlets. Many teams and league[s] have official sports betting partners and allow gambling company advertising on their premises. A few have even opened sports books at their stadiums.

The sports betting franchises plan to expand their offerings into online casino gambling and online lottery tickets, writes Stewart at Business Insider: “[O]nce someone gambles on an NBA or NFL game, they’ll develop a taste for gambling on other things, too.” Stewart describes how DraftKings bought Golden Nugget Online Gaming in 2022 and is buying Jackpocket, an online seller of lottery tickets, and how Caesars and MGM are developing sports betting apps.

Stewart interviews industry consultants who estimate that smartphone sports betting can be worth as much as $1000/year per player, whereas smartphone gaming or iGaming could be worth five times as much. “The more people gamble – and the more culturally acceptable gambling becomes — the more possibility gambling addiction becomes a bigger issue.”

States approve sports betting because, like the sports leagues, they get a piece of the action. States know they are generating revenue by addicting a not-insignificant portion of their citizens (currently estimated at 2% of adults) to smartphone gambling, causing bankruptcy, financial ruin, and crime.

What can be done about gambling addiction? At AdditionNews, we’ve covered several therapies that are being used, from the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program to promising smartphone interventions, to experimental psychedelic compounds. The start for many people is the phone number +1-800-GAMBLER, where they can get information on the nearest facilities that offer gambling addiction treatment.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published March 28, 2024.


“What is gambling addiction and how widespread is it in the US?” Associated Press, March 21, 2024.

“Turns out sports gambling was a gateway drug,” Business Insider, March 3, 2024.

“Gambling is easier than ever. That’s not the case for finding gambling addiction help,” NPR News, December 27, 2023.

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