Sports betting is harmless fun for most people. However, it can become a destructive addiction for those who lose control of their gambling.
This blog explains the potential dangers of sports betting and how to get help for gambling addiction if you, or a loved one, are developing a problem.
Why do people bet on sports?
There are several reasons why sports betting is appealing and different people have different motivations to bet on sports:
- Ease of access: A 2018 US Supreme Court ruling lifted the federal ban on sports betting in most US states. As a result, many states have legalized betting on sports and getting started is easy. Players can sign up with an online betting platform or mobile betting app and be ready to go in minutes.
- Entertainment: Betting on sporting events can be a fun and social activity to enjoy with friends, family or colleagues.
- Profit potential: The chance of winning big keeps people coming back for more. However, there is always the chance of losing big and chasing loses in a desperate attempt to recoup money rarely has a happy outcome.
- Mental challenge: Sports betting is a mental challenge that allows people to use their sports and betting knowledge. Sports enthusiasts can put their expertise to practical use. While gamblers can test their betting skills and know-how.
- Enhanced excitement: Sports betting can enhance the thrill of the game, especially when watching and betting simultaneously. It can also make a random match more appealing to someone if they have an interest in the outcome.
Sports betting statistics
The National Council on Problem Gambling has conducted a review of more than 140 studies and reports on the link between sports betting and gambling addiction. It concluded that “recent research suggests that gambling problems may increase as sports gambling grows explosively at the same time that mobile and online technologies evolve to create seemingly unlimited types of wagering opportunities.”
Here are some key findings from the review:
- The rate of gambling problems among sports bettors is at least twice as high as gambling problems experienced by other gamblers.
- One study of online sports bettors revealed that 16% met clinical criteria for gambling disorder and 13% showed signs of gambling problems.
- 45% of sports betting is conducted online. This is problematic for several reasons: online gambling is available 24/7, it offers more convenience and privacy, and those who bet using mobile devices have higher rates of gambling problems.
- Live in-play betting offers many more opportunities for sports betting; any aspect of the game is now a potential wager. This reduces the time between the bet and the reward which can increase the speed and frequency of gambling, and exacerbate the risk of problematic behavior.
- Sports betting is common among professional athletes. A recent European report revealed that 57% of professional athletes had engaged in sports betting over the previous year, with 8% exhibiting gambling problems. This is around three times higher than the general population.
- 75% of students gambled (according to data from 2018) and young people have higher rates of gambling problems than adults.
- Between 2004 and 2018, fantasy sports betting quadrupled in the US. Studies have found that higher fantasy game participation is associated with higher rates of problematic gambling.
Dangers of sports betting
Sports betting can be harmful for people who gamble excessively. They can experience severe legal, financial, emotional, mental and physical consequences that often become worse over time. Here are some of the common dangers:
As sports betting activity increases so do the losses. Problem gamblers may start to borrow – or even steal – money to continue gambling. As their financial situation worsens, the consequences become more serious and may include overdue bills, pawning personal property, taking out payday loans and racking up credit card debts. They may resort to bankruptcy to relieve their desperate financial situation.
People addicted to sports betting sometimes turn to crime when all legitimate money sources have run out. This may involve theft or embezzlement (they ‘borrow’ money to chase loses and plan to pay it back with their winnings) and insurance or tax fraud where they make false insurance claims or fraudulent tax returns to get fast access to funds.
Strained or broken relationships
Relationships can be irreparably damaged as sports bettors lie to or steal from friends and family. The emotional and financial stress of living with someone addicted to sports betting can lead to constant confrontations and even divorce. Children often suffer from the fallout of this toxic home environment. Compulsive gambling problems can affect a parent’s ability to care for their children or provide for them if family finances are used to gamble.
Sports betting addiction can result in reduced productivity at work, especially if the person gambles in the workplace. It can also lead to increased sickness or other absence, mental health problems, job loss and unemployment.
Mental health problems
For people who already have mental health problems – such as anxiety, depression, obsessive disorders and personality disorders – compulsive gambling can worsen the symptoms. Sports betting addiction can also cause mental health issues that may drive sufferers to gamble even more.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with gambling problems are at heightened risk of suicide. If you, or a loved one, are feeling suicidal it is imperative that you to reach out for help immediately. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Physical health issues
The stress caused by excessive gambling often leads to insomnia. Disrupted sleep can have a serious impact on physical health including weight gain or loss, gastrointestinal problems, heart disease, migraines, high blood pressure, diabetes and lowered immunity. Also, when gambling takes over a person’s life, they can slip into unhealthy eating habits and become sedentary with too little exercise.
Sports betting addiction
How can you tell if you, or a loved one, have sports betting addiction? What are the signs and symptoms of a sports betting addiction? The American Psychiatric Association advises that “Adults and adolescents with gambling disorder have trouble controlling their gambling. They will continue even when it causes significant problems.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) states that a gambling disorder diagnosis requires someone to have displayed at least four of the following behaviors in the last 12 months:
- Needing to gamble with increasing amounts to feel the same excitement
- Feeling irritable or restless when trying to reduce or stop gambling
- Repeated attempts to reduce, control or stop gambling without success
- Frequent thoughts about gambling and making plans to gamble
- Gambling when feeling unhappy
- Chasing losses by gambling after losing to try to get even
- Lying to hide gambling from others
- Experiencing relationship problems, or risking career or educational opportunities due to gambling
- Relying on others for money to spend on gambling.
How to get help for sports betting addiction
The biggest step to overcoming sports betting addiction is admitting there is a problem. If you, or a loved one, have an uncontrollable urge to keep betting despite negative consequences, it is time to seek help. Many other people have been able to stop the destructive cycling of gambling and rebuild their lives, and you can too.
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