More attention to the human cost of sports gambling


“Sports gambling has become akin to smoking in the 70s, made glamorous and exciting through ads”

Article Image

Image by Baishampayan Ghose

By Alexandre Freiherr Von Hornstein

“The game within the game.” A slogan used in a Draft Kings advert to describe gambling. They are but one of many sport betting firms that have enjoyed a major boom, with the industry currently valued at over 80 billion dollars, and growing at an annual rate of just over 10 percent per year. Such an explosive growth has enabled sports betting firms to exert influence to an unprecedented level.

There are shirt front sponsorships, stadium and trophy naming rights, official partnerships with teams, play by play commentators giving out the odds for the game, and a barrage of in game ads. Yet, for all the bluster, the celebrity promoters, the catchy slogans present in these ads, they are simply pushing fans to gamble by exploiting their emotional ties to the game and team of their choice. A gamble that often spirals into addiction, into financial ruin, and at times, ending with the loss of life. How did it get to this point?

In 2005, the Tony Blair government passed the Gambling Act 2005 which cut down on regulations governing betting. This is crucial, not solely because it further enabled betting firms to push boundaries, but due to the Premier League being the most viewed and most lucrative of any professional football league, that means it now rakes in just over seven billion dollars.

With increased funds came a tidal wave of ads and lucrative sponsorship deals between sports betting companies and Premier League teams. A report last year brought forward by Ruth Davidson, former Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, noted that within a single game, a fan is exposed to over 700 instances of gambling firm logos. Furthermore, within the Premier League, eight teams have sports betting firms as their shirt sponsor that bring just over 50 million dollars to the league.

Yet, the revenue brought in is rather insignificant considering the total revenue of the Premier League. If all gambling sponsorships and partnerships were cut, the House of Lords had estimated it would be the equivalent of a 2.5 percent reduction in revenue. Moreover, there is a stark human cost to consider. In the UK alone each year, there are over 400,000 thousand problem gamblers (55,000 aged 11-16), 1.8million more suffering from gambling related harm, and worst yet, 409 gambling related suicides. Therefore, one must ask, is the slight increase in revenue truly worth the human cost?

In the US, the floodgates opened as a result of a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, which effectively struck down a 1992 federal law, prohibiting state-sponsored gambling in all but four states. Since 2018, over 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalised sports gambling, with the industry’s revenue within the US having reached just over two billion annually. With teams in American major leagues not having sponsors on their shirts, betting firms have turned to aggressively marketing their services, spending over 400 million dollars a year on advertising.

This aggressive advertising is clearly demonstrated through research which found that betting firms were willing to effectively spend 750 dollars to attain a customer. This push for customers has shown dividends for firms, with 17.5million placing a bet in the last Super Bowl.

Supporters of the 2018 Supreme Court decision point to the industry revenue and argue that the increased tax revenue and tourism provides a boon to their state. However, striking a balance between an increased tax revenue and a moral decision can prove difficult.

Some states such as Massachusetts, which operated with a 51 percent tax, are working to ban gambling as the benefits to the state have been deemed insignificant to the potential cost. This cost is illustrated by the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network reporting a 45 per-cent jump in calls related to gambling from last year, and surveys stating that one in every five Americans have placed sports bets in the past year. With 6.6million Americans already suffering from gambling related issues, the figure will likely grow should current trends continue.

Both examples illustrate how legal changes, complacent leagues and teams have enabled sport betting firms to aggressively push a seemingly glamorous service that, in reality, can destroy families and take lives. Yet one must also account for media outlets, be it major publications, podcasts or YouTube channels related to the sport, that have been sponsored by these sport betting firms. Whilst the hardships of the current times make refusing a sponsorship or partnership difficult, it is not impossible.

Within the English football pyramid, teams in the lower leagues such as Bolton, Forest Green Rovers and Tranmere Rovers to name but a few, have taken steps to not only refuse sports betting partnerships, but to partner with awareness groups such as Gambling with Lives and the Big Step. La Liga, the sixth largest professional sports league in terms of revenue, has maintained a ban imposed on gambling firm shirt sponsorships since 2020.

Yet for any significant change in trends to occur, legal action by governments and firmer stances by professional leagues is needed.

Sports gambling has become akin to smoking in the 70s, made glamorous and exciting through star studded ads. And like smoking, attention and actions are needed to prevent the human cost.