What's Really at Stake Now That We Can Bet on Games Legally?
On Monday May 14th, the Supreme Court overturned a 1992 federal law that prohibited sports gambling in every state except Nevada. This new ruling has now made it legal for every state to offer legalized sports betting if they so choose.
While many news & sports websites, including ESPN & YAHOO are offering articles & opinion pieces that are fighting to contain their joy and excitement to share this news, I want to offer some truth to the conversation that is going underreported.
Legalized sports betting is going to ruin lives and steal futures.
The Past & Future of Sports Betting
I was a problem gambler for more than 10 years and lost more than $500,000 during that time. (You can read my story in my first book Finding Faith).
Plenty of the money I lost gambling was lost betting on sports. Now, I have found freedom from that addiction through Christ. I now run a ministry and host a daily radio show dedicated to sharing the hope of the gospel and my story of overcoming addiction.
Click below to listen to the episode of our radio program, The New John Simmons Show - where I talk in depth about legalized sports betting.
In addition to talking about this on our radio show, I wanted to write about this sports gambling issue because of its extreme importance. Don’t be fooled, while some will say this ruling is great for business, the economy, government, and schools — it’s simply not true.
This ruling will allow you, your children, your friends and everyone you know to be overwhelmed with advertising and easy access to sports betting that are aimed to offer you the opportunity not to win big, but to lose everything.
We aren't the first country to legalize sports betting and also won't be the first to see lives & families ruined because of it.
Picture the future of sports betting in America. Once you had to fly to Las Vegas and put real money on a counter to place a bet. This will soon feel like an ancient way of doing things, like having a landline or playing a cassette tape because sports gambling will be readily available on your phone, computer and stores you frequent.
Eventually, sports betting companies and partners will air commercials designed to make us feel like we need to have a lifestyle that includes friends, sports and gambling. Just like the ads that got us to buy the latest iPhones, we will soon see similar ads designed to get us to spend our money betting on sports.
However, when we do bet money on sports we won’t also receive a phone to put in our pocket. Our money is gone and we will have nothing to show for it, but companies will do a great job to make us feel like sports betting is the right way to live a fulfilled lives. My guess is the advertisers will stop calling it gambling or betting altogether and will create a new word to associate with the behavior that doesn't invoke negative connotations.
Also, don’t be surprised when apps and marketing campaigns will be created to teach our children how to gamble on sports for free or create pick 'em games for the phones or gaming consoles. These efforts will train our children to quickly transition that "skill" into real money gambling habits when they reach a certain age.
The Winners & Losers of Legalized Sports Betting
ESPN recently released an article highlighting the winners and the losers involved in the legalization of sports betting. They listed 11 winners and 6 losers.
Do you think ESPN really thinks sports gambling is a bad idea?
Of course not, ESPN (and other sports related companies) will now be able to draw more viewers to games, gain new advertisers and create their own sports betting app or website addition that will easily allow all sports fans to bet on sports in the name of “recreation.”
That is of course who ESPN says the big winners of the legalized sports betting are — the recreational bettors. They define a recreational bettor as someone who will wager $20 on a game at the bar with friends over drinks.
Let’s be honest, Gov. Chris Christie didn’t spend $8.6 million of taxpayer money to legalize sports betting in New Jersey and throughout the country just to court $20 recreational gamblers. That's like saying, I opened a gas station just so people could have a cheap place to buy gum. Oh, you can spend lots of your money on my gasoline, but the real winners are the people who spend a little money to buy my cheap gum.
It’s estimated that $6 billion is currently spent a year on illegal sports betting. That money isn’t found $20 at a time every once and a while. Most of that money comes from people with gambling problems. The people and companies that will benefit from this new ruling will find a way to get money from anywhere they can.
We have seen state lotteries spend lots of money advertising specifically to low income families and minorities. The $400 million Powerball jackpot we see on the signs is built mostly on the backs of the poor. Sports betting will market in similar ways, they will advertise to the market most likely to use the product — which isn’t the recreational sports bettor.
Who is at the Highest Risk of Destroying their Lives?
More than 6 million Americans are considered problem gamblers according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission says its closer to 15 million men, women and children.
The NCPG have found that anyone can become addicted to gambling, but most pathological gamblers are males between the ages of 20-40.
Care to guess who is the target demographic for Major League Sports Viewership on ESPN is? That’s right, males between the ages of 18-34.
Do you see the problem? Those at the greatest risk to develop a gambling addiction are also the target audience of the sporting events.
For those that don’t believe this ruling will corrupt the lives of millions of Americans and their families, think again. Legalized sports betting is going to open the door to millions of problem gambling addictions due to the exposure effect.
The exposure effect is something Dr. Howard Shaffer, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical school spoke about in an interview with ESPN years ago about the possibility of this very ruling — which was just hypothetical at the time. The exposure effect is the idea that the more people who are exposed to gambling, the more people will gamble.
Seems very straightforward, but we have already seen articles telling us that people are more worried about sports betting corruption than gambling addiction.
In that same article on the exposure effect from ESPN, Dr. Schaffer was also quoted as saying,
“When sports betting is legalized, young people who have never stepped in a casino or purchased a lottery ticket will try putting money down on a game, and some will develop gambling problems. Athletes are specifically at risk. Lives, families will be ruined. This risk can't be overstated.”
Legalized sports betting will ruin lives, you don’t have to take my word for it, you can listen to a Doctor from Harvard who specializes in problem gambling addictions.
The Truth You Won’t Hear
From my own experiences, I understand the allure and draw to win money betting on sports. I also know the downsides.
I learned to gamble on credit with bookies just to try and win back what I had lost. Gambling on credit created mountains of debt in my life. I also lost many very close personal relationships. Some of my family relationships are still fractured or broken because of my gambling habit.
I don’t want to see you end up like I was. Yet, now that sports betting is legal, many may end up that way. Remember, the world will do a good job at promoting and advertising sports gambling as something you or someone you love will desperately want to do. They will make placing a bet as easy as the press of a button on your phone or a quick visit to a website. That’s how easy it will be to lose everything.
Families savings will be lost, debt piles will become bigger, relationships will be broken and lives will even be lost. More than two-thirds of problem gamblers are at a risk for suicide. I know I was. Many of them will actually go through with it. I personally know people who have.
You won’t hear those stories though. The sports media will do a good job to describe all the stories of the big wins and unbelievable records of guys who have won millions betting sports!
ESPN (and sports sites like it) won’t tell you the stories like mine anymore, even though they have in the past. They will suppress the stories of addiction and problem gamblers. They will only focus on the good and never tell the whole truth.
The Bettor Never Wins in the End
It will be an uphill battle for anyone who loves sports to not at least entertain the thought of betting on games in the future. Maybe betting on sports will become available on Facebook or Twitter. Amazon has started airing NFL games, maybe one day you can add a new shirt and a $100 bet on tonight’s game to your cart at checkout.
Lives will be ruined when it becomes so easy to do something so destructive.
No matter how good a sports bettor is, the system is rigged to never beat the house. You cannot win money long term against these companies that offer sports betting. Nevada casinos, which was the only state to allow legal sports betting until now, haven’t had a losing month in sports betting since July 2013!
Do you think companies that take sports bets will start losing money now, when a bunch of amateur bettors begin to invest their paychecks on the favorite teams? Absolutely Not. Most likely, the casino's odds just got even better!
The winners of legalized sports betting are not going to be the families and those who work hard to earn their money. The winners will be the companies tempting us to spend our hard-earned money by betting on a game.
Would you bet your paycheck on a game of monopoly? Of course not.
You also wouldn't work hard all week if you knew your paycheck would only be earned if you flipped a coin and picked heads or tails correctly? We work hard for wages because we know in advance what we will earn. Sports betting will tempt us to flip that coin with our earned paycheck money every day.
Don’t let temptation ruin your life or steal your future.
There is Still Hope for Ruined Lives & Stolen Futures
I’ll leave you with this. Lives will be ruined, but there is hope. Jesus Christ helped me overcome my addiction and restored my life to help others. I am no longer the hopeless depressed addict I once was. Jesus can restore hope for anyone who will be negatively affected by legalized sports betting in the near future.
1) To the families that will ultimately be negatively affected by this ruling, Christ can restore your finances, bring reconciliation to broken relationships and bring comfort to your heart during a time of deep misunderstanding of why your loved one is doing what they are doing.
2) To those who may be tempted by the tricks of the industry that flood your life with advertising trying to get you to gamble on a game, God can give you wisdom to avoid those temptations and show you the unique created purpose for your life.
3) To the person who has found themselves trapped and lost in a problem gambling addiction. Jesus is the answer to the question, “How do I stop?”
Jesus saves in more ways than one. He can save you from your own behavior, he can save you from hating your brother or husband and he can save you from ruining your life and your future.
However, Jesus can’t save us unless we faithfully ask. Legalized sports betting will ruin lives and steal futures, but Jesus died so that we could overcome our problems and find a new life in Christ. Jesus came to give you a future and a hope for your life today.