One look at your Facebook feed and you will quickly see that the Supreme Court has struck down a law prohibiting gambling on sporting events. Everyone from amateur sports fans to ESPN and the New York Times are weighing in on who will win as a result of the ruling. Some see the states that will allow betting to be the big winners, while others look at the law as an opportunity for the NFL or NCAA to print even more money. I see it differently. Although states might generate more revenue or struggling entities like the billion dollar professional sports organizations might increase their bottom line, this law will ensure that most of the regular guys you and I know will be the big losers. Here’s my list of the people that will suffer the most:
- Men (young men in particular)
For the first time ever, the American Psychiatric Association has recognized that gambling can evolve into a non-substance-based addiction. Those of us working in the field have known for years that people can in fact develop a real addiction to gambling, but the science is finally catching up to our anecdotal experience with patients in the clinical office. I’ve seen first hand how compulsive gambling can create the same kind of quest for a dopamine induced high that a drug addict or alcoholic experiences. Here’s a quick example of how gambling can become compulsive: When I was researching information to write this article, I searched “#gambling” on Facebook just to see what would come up. One of the first results was an old post from a Facebook user that read “Anyone wanna go on the casino cruise tonight? Got a nice scratch off win and have nothing to do, lol #gambling”.
Gambling addiction is real and can affect people of all walks of life, but the biggest losers in this sports betting scenario are going to be men in general and young men in particular. The research demonstrates that men are much more likely to be involved in gambling and to develop compulsive gambling habits or gambling addictions. The increased access to gambling, as states begin to enact laws to allow sports gambling, will most certainly increase the number of men who struggle.
Perhaps the most troubling statistics on men and gambling is the reality that young men tend to struggle more intensely than older men. Studies indicate that nearly one-fourth of college students gamble at least once a week. Many college campuses already have extensive bookmaking operations with large numbers of students, mostly men, as clients. These young men shared some common traits: an obsession with sports, a social network in which gambling was acceptable and supported by peer pressure (such as a fraternity house), access to money, intelligence, and naive illusions about what they were actually doing. Online sports betting will invariably increase access for younger men, which will accelerate the problems for young men who have come of age playing addictive video games. Once states get into the online gambling business, they will be unwittingly chasing a younger gambler and his money. The end game here will be ugly for these young men, their parents, and their future families.
- Families and children
These young men that develop a compulsion to gamble grow up and have families. And their families suffer. More than 85 percent of families with a gambling addict have reported receiving threats from creditors and bill collectors. There is also an increased rate of divorce. In the United States, 65 percent of couples that consist of one spouse with a gambling addiction end up divorced. There is also an extreme amount of stress placed on the family to repay debts and bills that the addict has accumulated as a result of gambling.
The children of people with gambling problems are exposed to a range of family stressors that are shockingly similar to children of alcoholics, including financial and emotional deprivation, physical isolation, inconsistent discipline, parental neglect or rejection, poor role modeling, family conflict, and reduced security and stability.
- Sports fans everywhere
We could debate the merits of gambling in general and probably come up with a consensus opinion that allows for some environments in which gambling can be an appropriate and enjoyable entertainment. However, we should be very careful with using sports as an outlet for gambling, simply because of the beauty of what sports represents to us as a culture. We live in a broken world where school shootings are commonplace, where a Kardashian-like self-centeredness is rampant, where chronic stress has become the biggest health concern, and judgment and anger towards others is the norm. It’s messed up out there guys. But sports provide many people with a context in which we can celebrate man’s accomplishments rather than focus on our fears or our failures. Introducing gambling into the context of sports changes this dynamic drastically. It changes the purity of a focus on the celebration of discipline, character, and fortitude of our team to a focus on our own personal gain. And that makes the new ruling on sports betting a lose/lose scenario for us all.