The Super Bowl has become “essentially a national gambling holiday,” said National Council on Problem Gambling executive director Keith Whyte, a day where wagering on the culmination of the NFL season is as mainstream as the halftime show or anticipation of big-dollar commercials.
That isn’t a problem for the vast amount of Americans who take a flier on a Super Bowl square or a prop bet if they live in one of the 30 states where sports betting is now legal and underway.
But for the 2-3% of the population that struggles with gambling addiction every day of the year, Super Bowl Sunday is perilous.
That makes this a moment of not only concern but opportunity if the gambling industry and NFL begin to take on more responsibility than exploiting this burgeoning new revenue stream.
“[The Super Bowl] becomes a little bit like March Madness where perfect strangers are happy to talk to you about their brackets or perfect strangers will be happy to talk to you about their prop bets or whether they think the line on the Bengals is right or not,” Whyte told PlayUSA.
“I think for the vast majority of people, that normalization of gambling in our culture actually is probably a good thing because it allows us to have open and honest conversations around gambling, and hopefully also open, honest conversations about gambling addiction. But we know we’re not there yet.”
Super Bowl Sunday betting can be an indoctrination, vulnerability for some
A concern for problem gamblers, Whyte said, is the Super Bowl is the final opportunity to chase losses in the most popular betting market in the United States.
But an often overlooked issue surrounding this festival of sports, dip, and gambling is protecting children, Whyte said. Sports leagues, gambling companies, and increasingly, mainstream media outlets have espoused gambling as a new form of fan engagement. And younger demographics represent future customers for all of them.
“So that’s what we’re seeing today, with the legalization of gambling, you’re going to allow for the gamification of content. And to me, that’s ultimately how you’re going to connect with more fans and the younger fans is by gamifying content,” he said.
This concerns Whyte. While the NCPG is “neutral on legalized gambling,” he said, its mission is to press stakeholders and the public health system to establish a framework for education and the prevention of future gambling addiction.
“Gambling starts recreationally, but age of exposure has an impact,” Whyte said. “There’s a lot of research to show that the earlier you start gambling, the more likely you may be to eventually have a problem, knowing that for the vast majority of people, it doesn’t matter how young they start gambling, they will never have a problem.”
PlayUSA analyst Dustin Gouker estimates that about $1 billion will be bet legally on the Super Bowl this year. Having frank discussions about betting, especially during such a time of high interest, could keep those with a problem safe as sports betting continues to become more prevalent all year, Whyte said.
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