March Madness, shorthand for the NCAA Basketball Tournament, has arrived. This year’s tournament will almost certainly see a record level of bets placed over the next three weeks. It comes just a month after wagering on football’s big game set a record of $16 billion gambled. Increasingly, a sports gambling mania has taken hold where athletic contests are less about what the players do on the field or court and more about how betters fair with the oddsmakers.
The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ) notes how sports wagering plays a huge role in the broader gambling culture. A recent and troubling manifestation of the growing sports gambling culture is colleges and universities partnering with sports books to help underwrite their athletic programs. This arrangement amounts to an exchange of textbooks for sports books as sports betting on campuses becomes normalized. Undergraduate exposure to sports betting is taking place in spite of most of these students being under the legal betting age of 21.
The encroachment of sports betting at colleges and throughout society will impact one group in particular: young men. While problem gambling threatens all demographics, young men are particularly vulnerable since they are inclined to take risks, love sports, and believe themselves to be invincible. No doubt, this combination is a recipe for potentially developing a gambling problem. Research shows that adolescents have a significantly higher incidence of disordered gambling than adults.
Student-athletes certainly face a no-win situation in this expanding gambling environment. They come under near-constant suspicion of being on the take. When gamblers lose a bet because their team failed to cover the spread, these betters take to social media and disparage the players as being complicit in keeping the game close. Conversely, when a team loses by more than the spread, players on the losing side are deemed corrupt. No outcome is free of taint as more and more money is wagered on games.
Another key aspect in the surge of sports betting has been the tremendous volume of advertising. The ads for the tournament have begun and will only multiply. So excessive is the marketing by sports books that the New Jersey Assembly recently introduced a resolution to rein in what Assemblyman Ralph Caputo labeled as the “obscene” amount of ads. The CCGNJ submitted testimony to the Legislature on the gambling ad barrage, citing a statistic in Barrons that the sports marketing outlay increased by 178 percent between 2020 and 2021.
As many more people gamble due to the increased access through apps and the ability to bet on sporting events, more people will develop a gambling problem. Online sports betting platforms are eager to exploit fans by minimizing the risk and offering promotions and other incentives to entice gamblers who think they know enough to beat the odds.
If you or someone you know may have a gambling problem, please visit https://800gambler.org or call 1-800-GAMBLER; we are here to listen and provide support, treatment, and hope.