Industry needs to take the lead in addressing compulsive sports betting By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports June 10, 2019 at 6:46 pm There’s lots of good news for advocates of legalized sports betting in America. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, state after state has embraced the Nevada model of legalization and regulation of bookmaking and sports wagering. Others have legislation under consideration. Even most states that are proceeding cautiously appear to see a future in which sports betting has been de-stigmatized and largely accepted even by those who choose not to bet. What’s less certain is whether the legal bookmaking industry as a whole understands the importance of getting out front of compulsive gambling behavior around the sports book. Next to cheating scandals, compulsive gambling behavior should be a point of stated concern for the industry officials. From the look of things, there’s still plenty to learn. Or should I say, re-learn. That’s the problem with the issue of compulsive sports gambling. It’s not exactly a secret. And lately, media outlets have published reports taking note of the human cost of uncontrolled gambling behavior. After all, examples aren’t hard to find. And the issue is about to pick up steam. A recent ProPublica Illinois/WBEZ report analyzing the 816-page gambling bill approved by the state’s Legislature, found that the expected expansion of sports and horse betting will increase the number of available seats to wager from 44,000 to 80,000. Illinois bookmaking is about to go big with higher limits, more machines and a greater variety of selections. That explosion is generating concerns about increased compulsive gambling behavior with “gambling on every corner,” as one recovering gambling addict put it. “I’m a Bears season-ticket holder. I’m going to be able to bet on the Bears before the game. It’s crazy what the expansion is doing.” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has a conversation with Crain’s Chicago Business Editorial Board. Manuel Martinez/Crain’s Chicago Business In fairness, it has never been difficult to bet on the Bears in Chicago. It’s just that it’s been with illegal bookmakers sponsored not by the state, but by the notorious Outfit. But as governors and lawmakers chase revenue sources in state after state, sports betting seems increasingly like a sure bet. It isn’t. But no one appears to be able to tell the newbies that. The sometimes-tragic human-interest stories are only part of the picture. While Illinois has earmarked $6.8 million to fund compulsive gambling treatment programs, other states spend a lot less. ProPublica reported the state’s attention to gambling addiction hasn’t grown along with its gambling industry. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, through administration officials, acknowledged a statewide study of addiction is in the works. That’s a good thing. But, frankly, just about any state’s study will do. Gambling addiction isn’t anything novel. Even if it’s often ignored, it’s been around since long before dice tumbled across green felt. There’s another factor worth considering: The self-regulation of advertising for sports betting and other games in the House. ProPublica found what others have also reported: that the standard everyone’s-a-winner advertising campaigns don’t attract much criticism. Commercials that would be illegal in Europe are accepted here. If it’s a concern for the industry, you wouldn’t know by the sports betting legalization legislation that’s passed or pending. None of it, ProPublica reports, contains substantive advertising restrictions. While the National Council on Problem Gambling recommended that 1 percent of sports betting profits be churned into addiction programs, that number is considered a nonstarter in a segment of the industry that commonly nets profit margins under 5 percent. The problem with doing very little about problem gambling is that it sets the bookmaking community in a negative light at a time it’s finally taking center stage. Students of gambling history have seen this story before. A failure to lead will have its own consequences. Contact John L. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.