Legalizing online sports gambling expected to lead to rise in problem gambling

ATLANTA — You’ve probably seen all the commercials during football games.

FanDuel and DraftKings are leaders in the booming world of online sports betting.

Georgia is considering joining a growing number of states legalizing gambling on sports. But some worry the multibillion-dollar industry is accelerating gambling addiction.

Sports betting back in the day meant a call to your bookie or maybe a trip to Las Vegas.

Now, with apps like DraftKings and FanDuel you can do it on your phone, anytime, anywhere and in some cases score big.

“I know a lot of people who have made some pretty good money off it as well. Like, literally putting in ten bucks and then make 17 grand,” said Atlanta resident and sports fan Gregory Meah.

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“Why not? I mean it really doesn’t hurt anyone. It might hurt your wallet,” said sports fan Meg Deshaies.

The pandemic has driven the exploding popularity of legal online sports betting. Many sites offer free money to sign up.

Gamblers can wager all sorts of bets: a player’s performance, scores at halftime, you name it, you can probably bet on it instantly.

For a compulsive gambler that can be a recipe for disaster.

“It’s instant access and it carries the most important thing that a gambler has to have, and that is secrecy. Gambling is a hidden addiction,” said Michael Burke, a recovering compulsive gambler and the executive director of the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling.

Burke is a former attorney and he’s among those sounding the alarm over online sports gambling. His casino gambling addiction led him to steal $1.6 million from his clients.

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“It got so bad, I remember one night I was down at my office and I knew it was all coming to an end. I had gone through a lot of clients’ funds,” said Burke. “I was going to commit suicide that night, I had a gun.”

Instead, he quit gambling, turned himself in and spent three years in prison for his crimes.

He acknowledges the majority of people who bet sports online do it responsibly. But for some it can quickly turn from a compulsion to a life ruining addiction.

“We’re going to have people going through bankruptcy, we’re going to have divorces, embezzlement, suicides,” said Burke.

Thirty-two states have legalized online sports betting. Many lawmakers support it as another stream of tax revenue. Professional sports leagues, including the NFL and NBA, are all in as well, saying it boosts fan engagement.

Who are most of those betting fans?

“Online sports betters are overwhelmingly young males. If you’re a college graduate, you’re twice as likely to bet sports than if you only have a high school diploma,” said Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

The organization is an advocate for problem gamblers and their families. It takes no position for or against legalized gambling.

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The National Council on Problem Gambling also is expressing concerns about the rapid rise in online sports betting. Whyte said the 24-hour access to betting encourages more risk taking.

“And frankly that leads to a lot of chasing losses, because folks that bet on sports think they can’t always lose so the best way to get out of the problems is to keep betting more and more. We call it chasing your losses, that rarely leads to good outcomes,” said Whyte.

Channel 2 Action News reached out to FanDuel and DraftKings about the blitz of sports gambling ads. They declined comment.

Last year DraftKings and FanDuel told Channel 2 Action News they have gambling guardrails.

“By not extending credit you’re not allowing people to get into a financial position that can be concerning,” said Stacie Stern, FanDuel’s governmental affairs director.

DraftKings said those safeguards include time restrictions and deposit limits.

“We have throughout our platform a tremendous amount of different protection to make sure that responsible gaming is paramount to the experience,” said Matt Kalish, the president and co-founder of DraftKings.

Legislation to legalize online sports betting in Georgia has passed Senate and House Committees and will head next to the House floor.

The bill currently does not include any new money for gambling prevention and treatment programs, but that could change. That is a big concern. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling Georgia is currently underfunding those programs.

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