- James, 34, said he became addicted to sports betting after his state legalized it two years ago.
- He wagered over $200,000 last year when gambling took over his life.
- James said sports betting was one way to do that “lose your savings on your phone.”
It was July. James remembers the night like it was yesterday.
He bet $3,000 that no run would be scored in the first inning of an MLB game, only to see a runner cross home plate quickly.
Then he bet another $2,000 that there would be no run in the next inning of another game. He lost that too. Now down to about $7,000 in total winnings for the year, he bet it all on a third game going scoreless in the first.
He won that bet, but said something finally clicked.
“I remember that exact moment,” the 34-year-old told Insider. “I’m like, ‘I’m crazy. This isn’t great.’ But sometimes gambling addiction makes you do crazy things.”
With March Madness in full swing, he tries not to go overboard.
Last year, James, which is not his real name because he spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity for privacy reasons, bet more than $200,000 on sports through legal betting platforms such as DraftKings and FanDuel, according to documents viewed by Insider, often betting as much as $5,000 per day. At his peak, he turned about $2,500 into over $30,000 in profit.
While the highs were “thrilling,” James said, gambling began to take over his life. His mood rose and plummeted based on the results of bets, and his addiction began to affect his relationships with his friends and family. He recalled that he couldn’t even read a book to his child without actively supervising a bet.
Legal sports betting has exploded in the US since the Supreme Court paved the way for it in 2018. As of March, it is legal to bet on sports in 33 states and is legal but not yet operational in three others. In a July Pew Research Center survey of adults in the US, one in five respondents said they had bet on sports in the previous 12 months. And based on its March survey of American adults, the American Gaming Association estimated that more than 30 million Americans planned to bet on March Madness through an online gambling platform or at a brick-and-mortar sportsbook.
While the industry has been a boon to states’ tax revenues, created jobs and entertained millions, some experts are sounding alarm about the potential for a spike in sports gambling addiction in the coming years. One of the main concerns is that sports gamblers may be more at risk than other gamblers of developing gambling problems.
Experts told Insider that there was no robust data on the magnitude of sports gambling addiction in the US.
The best research, experts say, comes from states that have legalized sports betting. Last year, the Illinois Department of Human Services estimated that 3.8% of the state’s adult population — about 383,000 people — had a gambling problem, and another 761,000 were at risk of developing one. In February, the Rutgers Center for Gambling Studies estimated that about 6% of New Jersey residents engaged in “high-risk gambling.” States are taking some steps to address the problem, such as allocating funding to prevention, education and treatment of gambling problems, but some say they should do more.
While Timothy Fong, a co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, said sports gambling could improve American entertainment in decades to come, he added that a much darker future cannot be ruled out.
“Here’s a product that we know is addictive,” Fong said. “Here’s an American hunger for that product. And then you combine the forces of a very powerful and effective industry combined with technology. This is where it can potentially go really bad.”
Insider reached out to DraftKings and FanDuel, who both pointed out their responsible gaming resources and resources that all gamblers had access to, including information on where to seek help in their state. Many platforms allow gamblers to place restrictions on their deposits, wages and time spent on the site or app.
They may also subject themselves to “cooling off periods” that prevent them from betting for a period of time. Many states also offer the option of “self-exclusion”, which prevents gamblers from registering or logging into a legal online sportsbook for a period of time.
Christine Thurmond, senior director of responsible gaming at DraftKings, commented: “DraftKings takes a systems-based approach to responsible gaming, which includes the continuous optimization of our technology, detection and intervention processes, as well as looking at the gaming environment as a whole and collaborating externally. with scientific experts, interest groups, operators or other parties to drive innovation in safe play. We view these efforts as critical to the success of our industry and in the best interest of our customers.”
FanDuel declined to comment.
If you’re not careful, mobile betting is a way to ‘lose your savings on your phone’
Before sports betting was legalized in his state in 2021, James said he only did it on an occasional trip to Las Vegas.
After downloading a sports betting app, he started by betting about $50 to $100 at a time on everything from baseball to hockey to tennis. But then he started winning – at one point winning about 14 out of 16 bets – which he said was the “worst thing” that could have happened to him.
“Once you win, you chase that win,” he said. “I was just addicted to winning, and it didn’t matter what sport or game it was.”
He guessed he must be lucky, but said it became difficult to convince himself that he had no real advantage — known as the “illusion of control.”
James started raising his bets to $250, then $500, then $1,500. He wagered several thousand dollars almost daily for two months last year, winning and losing as much as $5,000 depending on the day.
“Mobile gambling is really what kills everyone,” he said, “because people are often addicted, whether it’s drugs or alcohol or whatever, but the problem is you have your phone with you 24/7, so you can literally do it anytime.”
Ten of the states that have legalized sports betting only allow personal betting at sportsbooks.
James said he never tried using deposit limits, cooling-off periods or self-exclusion because he felt they “wouldn’t solve the root of the problem” and that he would find a way to keep betting elsewhere if he really wanted to.
He’s lucky that his total gambling balance has never dropped more than $3,000 since he started sports betting, but he said he believed the easy access provided a way “to lose your life savings on your phone.”
It’s ‘really hard to stay away from gambling’
After the $7,000 bet in July, James decided to make a renewed commitment to getting better, but said the process hadn’t been easy. He felt isolated and ashamed, which made it difficult to talk about his struggles with his friends and family.
The first time he called the gambling support line 1-800-GAMBLER, he was disappointed because he was simply directed to addiction resources – he just wanted to talk to someone. More recently, he said he had a better experience with the gambling help hotline.
Today, James said his addiction “comes in stages” and that his last “big bet” was $4,000 on a fall baseball game that was unsuccessful.
He said it’s “really hard to stay away from gambling” and that he still gambles, although not as often. He said he had now bet between $50 and $100 on games, adding that his last bet was during the Super Bowl.
The one thing that has helped him the most, he said, is trying to give up mobile betting and only betting on the sportsbook 30 minutes from his home, which has created an additional “barrier to entry.”
“I’ll probably go there for March Madness,” he said, “maybe place a few bets, but that’s fine with me.”
Are you struggling with a gambling addiction and want to share your story? If yes, reach to this reporter at email@example.com.