BetMGM Sports, Caesars Sportsbook, bet365, DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook are just some of the most popular online sportsbooks today. As sports betting becomes legal in more states across the U.S., new sportsbooks are constantly being made and promoted.
While the rise of sports betting may be helping the sports and gambling industries to grow from an economic standpoint, it is to the detriment of sports consumers. Sports gambling is quickly becoming a dangerous epidemic that is being legitimized by celebrities and the sports industry itself.
Before I discuss the dangers of sports gambling entering pop culture, I have to make a guilty confession — I am a hypocrite. Despite my extreme disgust at the sports betting industry, I have placed a couple of bets myself. Since turning 21 in March, I have placed roughly $25 worth of bets.
That said, anything is okay in moderation. The real issue with sports gambling is how often it is advertised and how pervasive sports gambling has become in sports culture.
Over the past five years, sports gambling has become ingrained in sports culture almost as much as the sports themselves. While the NFL only allows six sportsbook commercials per game, in just one soccer match, viewers can see a gambling logo as much as 700 times.
From my own experience, the amount of gambling commercials shown while watching any sport can feel overwhelming. As I am writing this article, Monday night football is on in the background and two gambling commercials have already flashed on the screen. Pundits now bring up gambling lines on air, and there are plenty of social media accounts dedicated to gambling.
It is not just about the number of commercials but also who is in the commercials. Celebrities like Aaron Paul, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Hart, Rob Gronkowski and a plethora of other stars can be seen on your television promoting various sportsbooks. These celebrities help bring sports gambling into pop culture and even normalize it. It is no coincidence that as the television show "Breaking Bad" has become more popular, Aaron Paul has become bet365's spokesperson.
It is now hard to have an in-person or online conversation about sports without bringing up terms like "parlay," "money line," "spread" or "props."
On Reddit, r/sportsbook has approximately 364,000 members, and people are always active in the community, advising on their best picks. That is only one online sports betting community, as Reddit and X, formerly known as Twitter, have many smaller communities dedicated solely to talking about sports betting.
If you are a sports fan, online discourse about sports betting is inescapable. But is the rise of sports gambling hurting society, or is it just “sports purists” whining about a changing industry? For sports consumers, the answer is the former.
The biggest and most obvious issue with the promotion of sports gambling into popular sports culture is addiction. Gambling, like drugs, releases a lot of dopamine to the brain and thus becomes very addictive.
“Over 80 percent of American adults gamble every year," according to addiction.com. "Three to five gamblers out of every 100 struggle with a gambling problem."
The pathway to a gambling addiction grows in college.
"The risk of developing a gambling addiction more than doubles for young adults in college settings," according to addiction.com. "An estimated 6 percent of American college students struggle with gambling problems.”
Simply put, gambling is addicting and can be extremely harmful to college kids whose brains have not fully developed and who do not always have a lot of money.
It’s easy for Aaron Paul to go on your TV and promote bet365 when he is collecting a huge check and has spare "Breaking Bad" money to gamble. Many who do get addicted, though, do not have the money to support their addiction. The more gambling enters popular sports culture and the more it is normalized, the larger the risk is for people to become addicted.
According to Addictions.com, “As many as 750,000 young people, ages 14 to 21 have a gambling addiction.”
At first glance, that number does not seem believable. After all, it is illegal for kids under the age of 21 to gamble. But once again, the spread of gambling into popular sports culture and the accessibility online sportsbooks provide to consumers are to blame.
Kids who watch sports see gambling advertisements with their favorite celebrities and thus can find gambling cool.
While there will never be official statistics for how many kids gamble underage, I know multiple kids who gamble underage by using a friend or family member's account. But the bigger issue is that there is no way for online sportsbooks to regulate this problem.
Even if there was, why would gambling companies try to regulate underage gambling more than they already do? A 16-year-old losing a $10 bet and a 21-year-old losing a $10 bet still give the sportsbooks the same $10 in their pocket. On top of this, 16-year-olds who illegally gamble can more easily become legal gamblers once they turn 21.
Even if you don’t have a friend or family member willing to gamble for you, there are plenty of news apps where you can begin the practice of gambling with fake coins. A popular app like Fliff offers both fake gambling for underage kids and real gambling. While kids are not directly losing money to apps like Fliff, it still is actively promoting the idea of gambling and can cause a higher likelihood of addiction down the road.
Besides losing money, underage gambling can cause mental health issues, a lack of impulse control and addiction in teens. Young adults do not have the mental capacity to safely gamble, but frankly, it is too hard to stop in the current climate.
Gambling does not just have an effect on the consumers of sports, though, but also on the players. The increased commodification of players, thanks to games like fantasy football and other types of gambling, has led to the increased abuse of athletes. The more a player is viewed as an object and less as a human being, the likelier they are to be abused online or even sometimes in person.
This was evident in an instance last Friday morning when Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison shared racist and vile messages he had received on social media after Minnesota’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night.
Mattison is far from the first player to share racist and vile messages that they received in their direct messages. Many of these direct messages are often centered around fantasy football and missed bets. It has even become a trend on social media to message the players you have on fantasy football, and while some direct messages are funny and cute, many are vile.
Whether positive or negative, all direct messages to a player about fantasy football or gambling infiltrate that player's personal space. If a player is meant to abstain from gambling to prevent them from potentially fixing games, it should also be punishable to threaten players in direct messages for not reaching certain stat lines, as the threat could cause players to also try and fix a game.
Players have not only been on the receiving end of fans' gambling rage but recently, there have also been many scandals, both on the collegiate and national level, on players gambling themselves. All leagues have different rules for athletes gambling, but as gambling becomes more mainstream, many players are choosing to ignore those rules.
On the collegiate level, a gambling investigation was opened into many of the players in the Iowa and Iowa State athletics programs, including now-Rutgers basketball redshirt junior guard Jeremiah Williams, who was charged with tampering with records related to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s probe into sports gambling. Williams was accused of placing 15 bets totaling $1,560.
While I believe that athletes should not gamble due to ethical reasons, it is easy to sympathize with players who live in a world where they are treated like an object and see gambling advertisements all around them. Players are humans too and will most likely be very aware of the different bets being placed around the leagues and teams that they are a part of. In a sports world now run by sports betting, it makes sense that a couple of players would get caught up in it.
I could also talk about how sports gambling is ruining how fans view the game, creating a fan that cares more about the baseline result and less about all the things that go on to create the result, but I will save that lecture for your “sports purist” uncle who will come up to you during Thanksgiving and regal you with memories of the Cowboys dominance in the 1990s.
I'm not advocating for sports gambling to disappear. Sports and sports gambling have been intertwined since their inception. With entertainment comes the need to further profit off of that entertainment and thus, gambling will always be around. Sports gambling scandals have also always been around, with the most famous gambling scandal occurring in 1919 with the Chicago "Black Sox."
That said, just because sports gambling is around does not mean we have to promote it as incessantly as we do. Lawmakers need to enact extreme regulation on gambling companies and sports leagues to slow down the advertising and promotion of gambling. While the rise of gambling may seem to be benefiting the average sports consumer, in reality, it just lines the pockets of the sports industry and the gambling companies themselves.
Realistically, though, regulation is probably a distant future, so it's best to remember two things. First, that parlay your fraternity brother said would hit will most likely not, and, as many gamblers have said over the years, "the house always wins.”
To view more of Ellis Gordon's work, follow @Ellis_Gordon1 on X.