Politicians, Sports Betting, And Responsible Gambling: An Unholy Mix

Of course guardrails are needed for gambling problems, but there are plenty of other addictive fish in the sea
paul tonko

I think I’m starting to really get aggravated with politicians and supposed do-gooders treating online sports betting as if it’s the most dangerous issue plaguing America.

A few weeks back, I wrote about how politicians want to ban or limit sportsbook advertising, despite the fact they turn a blind eye to state lottery advertising –- not to mention you only need to be 18 to play the lottery and they use cartoon characters to sell their message.

Then came the sham firing of SuperBook’s Taylor Mathis, who was canned for using March Madness to teach her sister’s second grade class a fun lesson in math.

And now, allow me to introduce you to Brian Hooper, a professional DFS player and a former legislative liaison working out of the Illinois governor’s office.

And he has the hottest of hot takes when it comes to the current climate on sports betting advertising, legislative action, and problem gambling – and it’s increasingly a take that I am coming around on.

Hooper’s main issue is shockingly simple: All the talk of banning sports betting advertising, of limiting when and where advertising can occur, of having helpline advertising everywhere is, at best, misguided, and at worst, not actually helping anyone.

“I don’t want someone to have some horrible addiction that ruins their life, but why was sports betting illegal, and now all of a sudden it’s not?” Hooper wondered. “All of a sudden it’s moral to do? We’re going to allow all these people to ruin their lives now? Well, why? Maybe it wasn’t that bad before. Maybe it was a lot of propaganda to begin with.

“If you look at the studies, the rates [of gambling addiction] are small and commiserate to other random things like shopping and other process addictions, where people get addicted to buying shoes or Legos,” Hooper continued. “You would think it would be like alcohol or cigarettes or higher, but it’s not. It’s not even close. Not to mention food and obesity and other problems. It doesn’t justify this overreaching intervention from the state to make the industry a public-private partnership, essentially. And so they use this propaganda to have this huge oversight.”

Food, shopping, investing

Here’s the thing: Hooper’s view — while certainly qualifying as a “hot take” — has merit. It’s a fair question. Why sports betting?

Consider: Roughly 85% of Americans have gambled at one time or another in their lives, and best estimates put 1% of the population as having “severe gambling problems,” according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. And this includes not only the current boogeyman — online sports betting — but also casino play, poker, horse racing, the lottery, and other forms of gambling. So really, how many people are actually addicted to sports betting, and how many of them are actually addicted to online sports betting? It has to be a fraction of that 1%.

Now, let’s compare, in yet another “apples to a fruit that is remarkably like apples” situation.

Studies have shown that up to 6% of Americans suffer from shopping disorders, defined as “chronic, repetitive purchasing that becomes a primary response to negative events or feelings which becomes very difficult to stop and ultimately results in harmful consequences.”

Last I checked, the government isn’t clamoring for 1-800-SHOPPER helplines to be broadcast with every Nike and Ann Taylor commercial.

Shall I go on? I’ll go on.

According to government studies, 1.2% of Americans suffer from “binge eating disorder.” 

Again, I’ve yet to see legislation that demands we stop advertising Oreos and McDonald’s, or have warning labels affixed to these commercials.

But wait, there’s more.

Studies have shown that up to 8%(!) of stock market traders qualify as compulsive or problem gamblers. 

Thank goodness the government has stepped in and banned Charles Schwab from advertising on television.

Plenty of objectively normal behaviors — eating, shopping, investing — can become serious, ruinous addictions. And, in fact, all these have higher rates of addiction than gambling (in all its forms).

But the brilliant minds in Washington and across state capitals are sinking their teeth into … sports betting.

Bans, limits, oh my

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko of New York wants an outright ban on sports betting advertising. A bill introduced in Minnesota would  prohibit such ads in taxis and airports for some reason. Ohio regulators are handing out six-figure fines like Halloween candy for violations of advertising and responsible gambling guidelines.

New Jersey has launched a program where people who bet a certain amount of money have to watch videos in order to continue betting. New York legislators want to slap a cigarette-like warning on all gambling ads. Some Illinois politicians want a pop-up ad to appear after every 10 bets (because everyone pays attention to pop-up ads).

Clearly, this push against sports betting is going to continue.

I guarantee they will put more restrictions on [sports betting advertising] and the studies won’t change,” in terms of the percentage of gamblers with problems, Hooper opined. “They don’t know what they’re doing. There’s no institutional knowledge on these gambling boards, they’re all politically appointed, you bring someone on who’s going to agree with you on whatever you want.”

To be clear: Hooper — who co-hosts the LOLZ podcast with Peter Overzet — doesn’t believe there isn’t space for responsible gaming messaging, but he really believes things have swung way too far. And it’s his background working in the underbelly of politics that forms his position.

“It just makes you feel good to say ‘we have to stop this problem gambling,’” Hooper said. “At the Capitol it’s really just about winning and losing, not about what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Of course, Hooper is in the minority, and so am I. Ever since The New York Times published its hit piece on sports betting, the heat has been on. After all, keeping people away from problem gambling is just good common sense, right?

“Whenever someone puts ‘common sense’ in front of something, you can be sure they’re full of shit,” Hooper said.

Photo: Tom Williams/Getty Images


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