BenFred: Teams pushing for sports betting legalization should go above and beyond to help hedge rising trend's risk – STLtoday.com Leave a comment

In this Friday, March 19, 2021, file photo, people line up to make sports bets at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, N.J. On Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, the NFL announced it is spending $6.2 million on a responsible betting program with the National Council on Problem Gambling to teach people how to bet on sports responsibly and to fund and expand treatment and prevention programs for compulsive gambling. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry, File)
Ben Frederickson is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. You can follow him on Twitter (Ben_Fred), Instagram (benfredpd) and Facebook (BenFredPD).
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There were odds on the Cardinals picking Oli Marmol as their manager. There are currently odds on the Blues to win the Stanley Cup. The most compelling discussion leading into Mizzou’s football game against top-ranked Georgia on Saturday, for many, revolved around the Tigers’ chances of covering a nearly 40-point spread.
If you bet on any of these — legally or not — this is a column for you.
If you are steaming about a column on sports betting appearing in the sports section, don’t stop reading just yet. This is a column for you, too.
Love it or hate it, ignoring the rise of sports gambling is not going to change this unstoppable trend.
For evidence, see what happened late last month, when Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch reported the Royals, Cardinals, Blues and St. Louis City SC are proposing ballot initiatives that, if eventually passed, would legalize sports wagering in Missouri.
Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma already are on board.
Across the nation, sports leagues are betting on betting. Some teams are opening up sportsbooks at their stadiums. More and more information about lines and spreads and in-game odds will be baked into traditional broadcasts. It’s not coming. It’s already here.
What we better do is press fast forward on the conversation about what to do about it, and how to handle it. Pretending the shift is harmless is as pointless as clutching pearls. They sky is not falling. The middle ground is being underrepresented. That’s dangerous. The same can be said for teams only embracing the monetary upside of getting involved with sports betting without accepting a responsibility to minimize its risks.
Keith Whyte can help. He’s been the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling for more than two decades. His organization, which was founded in 1972 to serve as an advocate for programs and services to assist people and families affected by problem gambling, is not anti-gambling. In fact, the NCPG recently partnered with the NFL for a grant that aims to promote responsible gambling. Whyte is neutral and informed. He has information and advice everyone should hear.
“We are in the middle of the largest and fastest expansion of gambling in our nation’s history,” Whyte said by phone. “It’s being led by states adopting sports betting. It’s more than 30 states now in the past two years that have adopted legalized sports betting.”
The surge means more opportunities and encouragement to participate, including opportunities and encouragement of folks who are vulnerable to gambling problems, a risk group that includes younger age groups that tend to display more risk-taking behavior than others.
“We think it’s critical that parents talk to their kids about gambling, like they talk to their kids about alcohol use,” Whyte said. “There are consequences. It’s the five knows.”
Know the minimum age to bet. Know the potential health consequences of gambling. Know how to gamble responsibly, if you choose to participate. Know the warning signs of gambling addiction. Know where to go to get help if you or someone you know has a problem.
There’s really a sixth know. It comes before the first.
“People should know it’s OK to decide not to gamble,” Whyte said. “I don’t know if we say that enough.”
These may seem like basic tips, but it’s a message active and future sports gamblers in our region may not be hearing as often as they should. The National Council on Problem Gambling did a study in 2016 that showed Missouri (33rd) and Illinois (28th) ranked in the bottom half of states in terms of per capita public funds dedicated to problem gambling services.
“In Missouri, the amount of money spent to stem gambling problems is essentially unchanged since the early 90s,” Whyte said. “It’s interesting to us that clubs in Missouri are leading the bandwagon of legalized sports betting, when the state absolutely has failed to create a comprehensive safety net.”
That 2016 NCPG study found an estimated 2.2 percent of Missouri adults are believed to manifest a gambling problem in Missouri. The same percentage was estimated for Illinois, which has since legalized sports gambling. It’s safe to bet on these percentages increasing, especially if more is not done to prevent and treat problem gambling.
A national survey conducted by the NCPG in 2021 showed the risk factors for problem gambling have doubled over the past three years, a trend influenced by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the uptick in sports betting advancements. The anecdotal evidence has a rather specific face. Sports bettors are at a higher risk to develop problem gambling tendencies. Young, male sports bettors, specifically. Especially ones who participate in daily fantasy sports.
Whyte wants parents to realize their own gambling habits can influence their children, and that talking about this topic should be started sooner rather than later. Research shows many people with severe gambling problems started gambling for money even before they became teenagers. (Specific tips and resources are available at ResponsiblePlay.org.)
“We are concerned there is a new generation of gamblers being groomed,” Whyte said. “And we are concerned they are bringing some pretty high risk into this betting.”
Missouri teams pushing for the legalization of sports gambling should embrace the opportunity to help strengthen what Whyte calls the safety net. How about an across-the-board commitment to earmark a healthy percentage of sports-betting-related revenue for programs designed to prevent and treat gambling problems? Lip service is not enough.
“Gambling addiction has been with us a long time,” Whyte said. “It will be with us a long time in the future. Just pretending it doesn’t exist, or kind of waving your fingers at it, is not enough given the enormous revenue involved and the enormous individual and community stakes. Gambling addiction is not just someone losing money. It can lead to serious consequences.”
It’s a serious topic. Families should start having serious conversations about it. Teams pushing to legalize it should go all in on doing their part to hedge risk.
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Ben Frederickson is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. You can follow him on Twitter (Ben_Fred), Instagram (benfredpd) and Facebook (BenFredPD).
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In this Friday, March 19, 2021, file photo, people line up to make sports bets at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, N.J. On Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, the NFL announced it is spending $6.2 million on a responsible betting program with the National Council on Problem Gambling to teach people how to bet on sports responsibly and to fund and expand treatment and prevention programs for compulsive gambling. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry, File)
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