In addition to being one of the most-viewed sporting events globally, Super Bowl LVIII is set to make history as one of the largest sports betting events in the United States. With tens of millions of Americans expected to wager billions of dollars on Sunday’s matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, concerns are growing over the accessibility and potential consequences of widespread gambling.
Experts argue that the rapid expansion of legalized, online sports betting has contributed to unprecedented accessibility and the problems that can arise from it. The American Gaming Association estimates that a record-breaking 67.8 million American adults will bet on the Super Bowl this year, marking a 35% increase from last year. The total amount of wagers, including traditional bets and casual bets among friends and family, is projected to reach $23.1 billion, up from $16 billion last year.
The landscape of sports betting in the United States has significantly evolved since 2018, with 38 states and Washington, D.C., adopting legalized sports betting markets. However, some states still only allow in-person betting, while others, such as California, have yet to legalize any form of sports gambling. Despite the current restrictions, the widespread legalization of sports betting seems inevitable, as several states are considering bills to legalize it in the near future.
Dr. Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist and co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, sheds light on the impact of this paradigm shift in sports betting and how it affects gambling disorders in the U.S. According to Dr. Fong, the rise of sports betting apps and services has drastically increased the prevalence and accessibility of sports betting. With the overwhelming number of regulated and unregulated gambling platforms constantly emerging, sports betting has become an accessible and embedded activity in American daily life. The ease of access, available 24/7 in every state, has transformed it into a ubiquitous presence.
Sports gambling distinguishes itself from other forms of gambling, such as online poker or traditional casino games, by offering a wider variety of bets and wagers that can be placed. With the advent of artificial intelligence and big gambling data, new types of bets can be offered every few seconds during live games. This vast selection caters to individuals with different gambling preferences, appealing to their diverse personalities.
The popularity of the Super Bowl in the sports betting world cannot be overstated. Considered a global phenomenon and the most-watched sporting event each year, the Super Bowl has become deeply intertwined with gambling. It is the most wagered-on sporting event, attracting large numbers of bettors who see it as more than just a game. The Super Bowl has evolved into a national tradition, serving as an occasion for communal events, entertainment, and gambling, highlighting the convergence of various aspects of popular culture.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to legalized sports betting in 2018, the popularity of sports gambling has skyrocketed. Online betting platforms have played a significant role in this growth by offering an extensive array of constantly changing wagers. Through partnerships with professional sports leagues, online influencers, and traditional media outlets, sports betting has become deeply ingrained in American entertainment. This normalization and promotion of sports betting have led to increased participation from the general public, resulting in a surge in gambling addiction cases. Numerous surveys conducted in different states have revealed higher numbers of gambling disorder incidence and prevalence, prompting an increased demand for treatment services.
Identifying the warning signs of an unhealthy gambling habit is crucial in addressing potential gambling disorders. Early signs often include excessive preoccupation with gambling, an inability to control or stop gambling, gambling beyond one’s financial means, borrowing money to gamble, or chasing losses by gambling more. Additionally, gambling disorder can adversely affect sleep patterns, worsen physical health conditions due to emotional stress, and exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders.
While there is speculation about sports betting acting as a gateway drug to other gambling addictions, there is currently no evidence to support this claim. Individuals seeking treatment for gambling disorders often report engaging in multiple types of gambling, rather than exclusively focusing on sports betting.
The motivations behind gambling and the development of gambling addictions can vary. Risk factors for gambling disorder include a family history of gambling disorders, initiating gambling at a young age, frequent gambling, easy access to gambling and finances, and the presence of other mental health conditions such as depression, ADHD, or substance use disorders. Gambling has been shown to activate the brain regions associated with highly rewarding substance use. Those with gambling disorders exhibit differences in brain activity compared to individuals without the disorder.
While gambling itself is a part of the human condition, it is essential to maintain a responsible approach to gambling and recognize its potential consequences. Gambling can provide entertainment, social connection, and enjoyment when viewed as another form of recreational activity. However, when gambling starts to adversely affect one’s quality of life, it may be a sign of an unhealthy relationship with it.
As sports betting continues to captivate millions of Americans, it becomes crucial to critically examine its implications and potential risks. While legal and regulatory frameworks continue to evolve, individuals must prioritize responsible gambling and seek help if they develop problematic gambling habits. As the Super Bowl approaches, the gambling landscape offers an opportunity for reflection and awareness regarding the potential problems that can arise from widespread betting.