Sports betting is getting much easier, Will that change us?

(NEXSTAR) — A Supreme Court decision in 2018 allowed states to vote to legalize online sports betting, and since then, states have seen year-over-year increases in tax revenue to the tune of $2.5 billion in 2023, according to LendingTree.

Sports betting is not a new phenomenon, but its recent legality has seen it evolve from a backroom under-the-table cash business into a socially acceptable form of entertainment that can be done on your smartphone.

“It’s discussed in offices, it’s discussed in social media outlets. It’s not only allowable, but it’s promoted and advertised in popular culture,” Dr. Timothy Fong, UCLA professor of psychiatry and co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies program, said. “Sports stars who once before could never talk about gambling are now talking about what’s a good wager, what’s a good price point for tonight’s game.”

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As sports betting continues to grow, so does the use of technology to provide easier ways for people to place their wagers.

“The larger question is is our society better for having things like gambling and regulating gambling?” Fong said. “Gambling is a human condition, it’s part of human nature, and we’ve now created technology that brings that experience that you can never erase. We’ve reached a point where there is no way to do a 100% prohibition or 100% scrub these technologies from the face of the earth. So we might as well regulate to the best of our ability, figure out ways to educate people so they can recognize problems early on and how to maximize enjoyment and financial safety.”

For example, Genius Sports, which is responsible for delivering statistics and livestreams of NFL games to sportsbooks, launched BetVision in 2023. BetVision is an immersive streaming experience that allows viewers to see and make wagers from their television screens and even create up-to-the-minute bet slips while watching the game.

Dr. Fong said that much like alcohol, tobacco and cannabis, the increase in access and availability could cause biologically, psychologically and socially vulnerable people to develop addictive behaviors and tendencies. However, it can also provide an engaging and joyful experience for sports fans.

“It’s somewhere in the middle, and I think we always have to remember though that gambling is a regulated activity, regulated by the government, so this is not something that can just grow on its own and just radically change,” Fong said.

Betting has become an ingrained part of the sports-watching experience with franchises and leagues signing partnership and sponsorship deals with some of the most popular sportsbooks enticing fans and viewers to make wagers as part of their fandom.

“If I wanted to watch just sports today, it’s a lot more expensive just to watch. Ticket prices, streaming services, cable packages, all that just to consume entertainment. Now you start adding in, ‘Is gambling an expected part of my fan engagement?'” Fong said. “That’s the real question over the next 10-15 years. Will we develop a pattern where if you’re going to watch sports, you have to spend money gambling or is it going to be no, if you just want to watch, you can still do it, it’s just going to cost you a little bit more.”

That same expectation can also have an impact on athletes themselves.

In 2024 during March Madness, Purdue senior Carson Barrett reported that he received abuse and criticism for scoring a garbage time basket against Grambling State that gave the Boilermakers a 28-point win when they were a 27-point favorite, effectively losing money for anyone who bet the under.

In the pro ranks, the NBA’s Jontay Porter and the MLB’s Tucupita Marcano were banned from their respective leagues for betting on their sport and, in some cases, on their own games and performance to affect gambling lines.

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“I think it’s really important for the coaches and the trainers and the team to make sure that those athletes understand how to deal with criticism, how to deal with temptation, how to avoid gambling addiction themselves, how to make sure that their athletic experience is not tainted or damaged by gambling,” Fong said.

Growing technology and a newfound acceptance of sports betting and gambling have also brought more jobs, a brand new economy, stronger professional sports organizations and an elevation of lesser-watched sports to the landscape.

Fong says that at the end of the day, gambling is a form of entertainment designed to make your overall experience better. But it is not supposed to consume your life financially.

“There are millions of people who engage in this activity who do so recreationally, legally, safely and who would arguably say, ‘My life is better because I am able to bet on sports.’ Just like some people who say, ‘I can have a few drinks of alcohol per month, I can vape nicotine a few times per month.’ It’s the same thing,” Fong said.

If you or someone you know is suffering from gambling addiction, call 1-800-GAMBLER or visit the UCLA Gambling Studies Program website for more information and resources.

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