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Addiction

Gambling Addiction Involves More Than Just Casinos

Introducing sports betting, fantasy sports betting, and internet gambling.

Key points

  • Sports betting, fantasy sports betting, and online gambling are growing in popularity and offer more opportunities to gamble apart from casinos.
  • Those with gambling addiction lose control over their gambling, gamble compulsively, continue despite negative consequences, and have cravings.
  • As a society, we must be aware of the effect of new forms of gambling on the prevalence of gambling addiction and offer effective resources.

When people think about gambling addiction, they often picture a person sitting in front of a slot machine, endlessly pulling the lever to turn the reels. But this is becoming an outdated image of gambling addiction. The old slot machines have largely been replaced by electronic gambling machines (EGMs), which are devices that offer rapid play (games starting every 3-4 seconds) and total immersion into the colors, sights, and sounds of the machine (Schull, 2012).

In addition to EGMs, there are several new ways of gambling that are growing in both availability and popularity. One of these activities is sports betting.

Sports betting is now legal in many states

The 2018 case, Murphy V. National Collegiate Athletic Association, overturned the 1992 ban on state-sanctioned sports betting. This means that individual states can now regulate sports betting—and many have jumped on the opportunity to make it legal. According to a recent ESPN article (Rodenberg, 2021), 22 states have legalized sports betting and another 8 have passed bills to do so soon (and other states are preparing similar bills).

Rather than traveling to a casino, sports betting can occur online, making it widely available to the public. Although many people can engage in sports betting without issue, it may be problematic for those with gambling addiction. Indeed, in the UK, 66.3% of individuals in treatment for pathological gambling reported betting on sports (among other gambling behaviors; Ronzitti et al., 2017) and among individuals with both gambling and substance use disorders, 48.1% reported engaging in sports betting (Rennert et al., 2014).

Fantasy sports betting is spreading

An outgrowth of sports betting is betting on fantasy sports. You may have heard the names Draftkings or Fanduels—these two are the most prominent companies offering opportunities for users to construct their own fantasy sports teams and place bets on their teams’ performance. The sites offer everything from fantasy football and baseball, to fantasy NASCAR and tennis. Users can even create fantasy eSport teams (for Call of Duty and DOTA2 tournaments).

Fantasy sports is a thriving activity in America. The Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association (FSGA; 2021) reported that 19% of U.S. adults play fantasy sports and that the number of players increased from an estimated 18 million in 2006 to 59.3 million in 2017. And, rather than waiting all season to exchange money, individuals also can play Daily Fantasy Sports, which, as the name implies, allows users to place bets on the daily performance of teams and players. Among adults who gambled in New Jersey, 13.9% played daily fantasy sports (Nower et al., 2018). Again, many individuals can play fantasy sports without experiencing problems, yet for some, it can be another opportunity for pathological gambling behaviors.

Online gambling is on the rise

Finally, in addition to sports betting and fantasy sports, another growing form of gambling is happening online. Internet gambling sites often emerge from offshore locations (yet some states have legalized online casino games) and regulations of these sites vary considerably. Using a smartphone, laptop, or tablet, users can gamble from anywhere at any time. This availability can be particularly problematic for those with a gambling addiction. Indeed, researchers found that among individuals with problem gambling, almost 50% had experience gambling online in the last month (Petry & Gonzalez-Ibanez, 2015).

What does this mean?

Gambling addiction can manifest in many ways, and in order to recognize and respond effectively, we must be aware of them. Land-based casinos are still very popular (especially with EGMs), but now, so are activities like online gambling, sports betting, and fantasy sports betting.

For a small percentage of individuals, gambling is an addictive behavior in which they lose control, continue despite negative consequences, gamble compulsively, and experience cravings when not gambling. For these individuals, there are a range of helpful resources to utilize, including group and individual counseling, family counseling, and 12-step support through Gamblers Anonymous.

As opportunities to gamble continue to expand and diversify, we need to be cognizant of how they affect rates of gambling addiction and ensure appropriate treatment services, prevention efforts, and regulations are in place.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

References

Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association (2021). Industry demographics. https://thefsga.org/industry-demographics/

Nower, L., Caler, K. R., Pickering, D., & Blaszczynski, A. (2018). Daily fantasy sports players: Gambling addiction, and mental health problems. Journal of Gambling Studies, 34, 727-737. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10899-018-9744-4

Petry, N. M., Gonzalez-Ibanez, A. (2015). Internet gambling in problem gambling college students. Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 397-408. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10899-013-9432-3

Rennert, L., Denis, C., Peer, K., Lynch, K. G., Gelernter, J., & Kranzler, H. R. (2014). DSM-5 gambling disorder: Prevalence and characteristics in a substance use disorder sample. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 22, 50-56. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0034518

Rodenberg, R. (2021). United States of sports betting: An updated map of where every state stands. https://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/19740480/the-united-states-sports…

Ronzitti, S., Soldini, E., Smith, N., Potenza, M. N., Clerici, M., & Bowden-Jones, H. (2017). Current suicidal ideation in treatment seeking individuals in the United Kingdom with gambling problems. Addictive Behaviors, 74, 33-40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.05.032

Schüll, N. D. (2012). Addiction by design: Machine gambling in Las Vegas. Princeton University Press.

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