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More Sports Gambling Could Put More People at Risk of Gambling Problems


Gambling, while entertainment for many, can become problematic with devastating consequences for some. The increasing availability of sports gambling raises the specter of gambling addiction.

In North America, an estimated 2 to 5 percent of adults are affected by problem gambling. Substantial expansion of legal sports gambling is anticipated following the May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a 1992 federal law prohibiting sport betting in most states (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992; Nevada was exempted), creating an opportunity for states to allow gambling on sports.

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Several states have since begun allowing sports betting, including Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey and West Virginia. Online sports gambling offers easy access anytime, may appeal to people who may not have had an interest in casinos, and allows greater speed and repetition of betting.

A survey of gambling in New Jersey prior to the court ruling found overall, nearly 70 percent of New Jersey residents reported gambling in the past year. The prevalence rate of gambling disorder was about 6 percent among adults and almost 15 percent of adults reported gambling problems. Problem gamblers were most likely to favor sports betting or live poker over other forms of gambling.

A study looking at online sports gamblers compared to land-based sports gamblers, found that online sport gamblers “appear to represent an especially vulnerable group, as they displayed riskier gambling behaviors than offline gamblers and non-sports internet gamblers.”

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Adolescents and young adults may be particularly vulnerable, some experts caution. A May 21, 2018 statement from New York Council on Problem Gambling notes that “Legalization of sports betting will be particularly risky for young people who are not already gambling, and who will see the legality and ease of access as an invitation to start.” The statement continues, for young people “with brains that are not fully developed for good judgment and early onset of risky behaviors, including gambling, we know there is a link to increased problems later in life.”

Help is available for those with gambling problems—most states are providing some services to address the issue. According to 2016 from the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), a national nonprofit working to help problem gamblers and their families, 40 states offer some type of services. State services include awareness programs, counselor training, helplines and referrals, treatment programs and coalition building.

However, help may not be accessible for many who need it. Ten states and the District of Columbia did not provide any dedicated funding for problem gambling services. According to the NCPG, about less than one percent of people who need gambling disorder treatment receive publicly funded care from a gambling treatment specialist.

NCPG and others are advocating for a more comprehensive approach to address problems, including education, prevention, intervention, treatment, research and regulation. In Congressional testimony in Sept. 2018, NCPG Executive Director Keith Whyte urged Congress to strengthen consumer protections in sports betting legislation, such as dedicating revenue to prevent and treat gambling addiction, establish a consistent minimum age for sports gambling and related fantasy games, conduct research to allow for data-driven response and require sports betting operators to implement responsible gaming programs.

If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling, you can take an Online screening or contact the National Council on Problem Gambling for help.

          Call or Text:   800-522-4700 


  • National Council on Problem Gambling, Resolution Regarding the Legalization of Sports Gambling 2017.
  • Nower, L., Volberg, R.A. & Caler, K.R. (2017). The Prevalence of Online and Land‐Based Gambling in New Jersey. Report to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. New Brunswick, NJ: Authors.
  • Estevez, A. et al. How do online sports gambling disorder patients compare with land-based patients? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2017, 6(4):639-647.
  • Calado, F. and Griffiths, M.D. Problem gambling worldwide: An update and systematic review of empirical research (2000–2015). J Behav Addict. 2016 Dec 1; 5(4): 592–613.


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