During the last two seasons of the National Football League (NFL), fans watching on television and in person have been subject to an onslaught of advertisements promoting sports gambling. After a Supreme Court ruling in 2018 struck down a 1992 federal law prohibiting sports gambling, the industry has exploded in the United States. Now, six years later, in-person and online sports gambling is legal in 37 states and Washington D.C. It is easy to see why many states have legalized sports betting and other forms of gambling. State governments have collected millions of dollars in tax revenues from sports betting alone, with New York state netting a staggering 1.5 billion in taxes from sports gambling since it was legalized. Sports gambling is also becoming increasingly convenient via online sportsbooks, such as FanDuel or DraftKings. However, this boom will have negative effects too. There appears to be no slowing down for the sports gambling train. Before it falls off the tracks completely, the government and regulators must work to slow it down.
As online gambling has continued to proliferate, sportsbooks have begun to sign promotional deals with both leagues and individual franchises in numerous American sports leagues. In 2022, the New York Mets announced an extended deal that made Caesars Sportsbook “an Official Sports Betting Partner” of the club. The Yankees did the same with FanDuel. These deals allow for usage of the teams’ logos, TV-visible signage throughout the ballparks and in-game content promoting the sportsbooks during local broadcasts. This is not unique to just baseball or football. It is beginning to become highly prevalent throughout North American sports. Teams and leagues themselves will not necessarily witness the negative consequences of the constant inundation of advertising for sports gambling while they rake in millions of dollars from partnerships. After all, other countries that have legalized sports betting show that it can quickly spiral out of control for many fans who become addicted to gambling.
In the United Kingdom, sports betting was legalized in 1960 and exploded in 2005, albeit employing a slightly different model than the one used by most jurisdictions in the United States. Betting stores began to open throughout Great Britain after wagers were legalized and are still present on many high streets today. Gambling also began to intertwine itself with major sports in the United Kingdom, especially soccer. Seven teams in the Premier League currently have a front-of-shirt sponsorship deal with gambling companies, which represent an investment in a sum of close to 72 million dollars. However, the ease and frequency of betting in the United Kingdom has resulted in strong backlash from former athletes and other figures who have suffered from gambling addictions. Furthermore, clubs will likely no longer be able to wear gambling companies as shirt sponsors pending the passage of new legislation and the majority of the British public being in favor of a complete ban on gambling advertisements. The United Kingdom shows that while sports gambling can be a fun way to watch a sporting event and win some money, there is a real risk for serious societal consequences if it becomes too overtly endorsed.
The United States, with its less-regulated gambling industry that lacks a central commission, is in danger of running into worse variants of the problems that have plagued the United Kingdom. Already, calls to gambling helplines have massively increased. Analysis shows that calls have increased by 91 percent in Connecticut during the first year sports betting was legalized and by 276 percent since legalization in Massachusetts. Furthermore, it is often young men with still developing brains that are becoming addicted to sports gambling as much of the advertising is aimed at this demographic. If gambling continues to be advertised as aggressively as it is now, this will become a new American epidemic. The American Psychiatric Association considers an addiction to gambling in the same category as addictions to heroin or opioids. Unless advertising practices change direction soon, more and more Americans appear set to develop gambling addictions.
Sports gambling is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. It can make for a fun way to watch a game with friends and add some extra excitement to sporting events, especially important ones, such as the Super Bowl or March Madness. However, it should not be force-fed to sports audiences the way it is now. The gambling industry must remain distinct from the sports that its customers can bet on. If people begin to bet of their own volition, so be it. But the constant advertising of sportsbooks and sports betting during sporting events and in collaboration with major athletic franchises will only lead to negative outcomes for millions of Americans.
Theodore Brita is a senior majoring in political science.