The Last Word on Problem Gambling and Sports Betting
March 31, 2023
March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. For the better part of the month, I’ve been thinking about the topic. In fact, for the better part of the month I’ve been trying to write this article.
The entire topic is very nuanced, and as usual when the discussion spills into public discourse, it’s easy for nuance to get lost. There have been voices questioning how much of an actual problem that problem gambling is. Some are directing their ire at politicians. Others at operators. The court of public opinion has people grandstanding in front of it on all sides.
But our audience, the group we like to call the “aspirational sharps,” are likely coming at problem gambling from a different viewpoint entirely. We’re inclined to know the difference between — or at least be in search of — good bets vs. bad bets. And that makes us a very different case when it comes to problem gambling.
Problem Gambling and Sports Betting
The first nuance of problem gambling to understand in relation to sports betting is how weak the medium is for spreading the sickness.
Problem gambling, or the compulsion to gamble, preys on the urge to gamble more. Typically that urge arises from frequent stimulation and the feeling of near-misses. The dopamine hit of a big win causes people to want to replicate that feeling again. It becomes a cycle of more, and more frequent, betting to chase all those highs.
Sports betting typically involves making wagers pregame and then watching the game play out in relation to your wager. You have one result over the course of multiple hours. Even a bet slip a mile long with plays up and down the board on a busy day can’t keep up with the action at a slot machine, which might have 50 results in a single minute.
Sports betting also has a skill-based component to it. That’s a double-edged sword. There are many who will recognize they don’t have enough skill to beat it and will make fewer bets as a result. However, there are some who will believe they can beat it and will believe they have an edge, even when that reasoning is flawed. Of itself, having a false sense of security that you’re placing a profitable wager is not problem gambling. However, betting beyond your means and beyond your skill can be ruinous.
How Sports Betting Can Become Problematic
The frequency and nature of sports betting are the reasons why it doesn’t lend itself as easily to problem gambling, but it’s easy to see how a change in that could lead to an increase in problematic behavior.
The industry is definitely moving toward higher-frequency betting. In-game betting has been a big push for a while now. That creates far more betting opportunities than pregame wagering.
Add into that the rise of microbetting and the betting opportunities increase almost exponentially. The more bets you can make, the more chances there are for bettors to become accustomed to the dopamine hit of frequent betting. Bettors desire that instant gratification, and these types of bets give them that.
Slot machines and lottery scratchcard games work on similar principles. Get the result of your gamble quickly. They also appeal to an insatiable human desire to want to risk a little and win a lot.
For years, the only bet-small-to-win-big sports bets were longshot bets tied to an improbable upset. The Buster Douglas plays. Then parlays gave bettors the opportunity to try and predict multiple events for that large payout. Now we have single game parlays. Longshot payouts tied to a single game. It checks all the boxes of being addictive. It’s fast, it’s fantastical and it’s frequent.
Sports Betting as a Gateway Drug
Anyone who has followed me for a few years knows I like to use the Trojan horse analogy when talking about sports betting. It’s being presented as this big gift to the people. However, hidden inside is a force which is going to attack them. My feeling has always been that the force inside the giant gift horse is internet casino gaming.
Sports betting is a lousy product to try and sell. To do it well, you need to spend a lot on marketing. The margins are low. The overhead is fairly high. The skill needed to manage it is scarce. The majority of operators in the space are here for just one reason. They want to capitalize on the cash cow that is i-gaming.
Internet casinos are high margin. They have a bigger audience. They are always on but don’t require skilled employees to manage. The low overhead and predictable margins make it a dream business to run. The tidal wave of regulated i-gaming is coming, and these operators are holding on long enough to be able to capitalize on being already licensed and regulated, owning market share, and having a database of players to market toward.
Conveniently, your online wallet will work in both the sportsbook and casino. You’ll be tempted with offers to go chase a sports loss in the casino. Or celebrate a win with some casino betting. You’ll be targeted by promotions which give you free play based on your sports bets. This is what the industry is approaching and, quite frankly, they can’t be blamed for thinking in such a capitalistic manner.
How Should a Sharp Sports Bettor Approach Problem Gambling?
As an aspirational sharp bettor, being aware of the causes and consequences of problem gambling is your first defense. I know some incredibly sharp advantage players who have developed leaks in their game because they fell susceptible to problem gambling. What may seem like a black and white pursuit now can become blurred shades of gray. A big win or a high variance play that goes your way sometimes is all it takes. These trigger the dopamine releases in your brain that you’ll unknowingly crave later.
Don’t Chase Losses — or Wins
Everyone gives you the advice of not chasing losses. I’m here to tell you: don’t chase wins. Moreover, that winning feeling. It can become very easy to continually try to make a push to reach a new high in sports betting. A new single-month win record. A new single-day record. It definitely creeps up on me as I end one sports season and begin the next. I want MLB to be just as good as college basketball was for me.
The unfortunate truth is that sometimes your success is going to be seasonal. Your edges in one sport may pale to the edges you have in another sport. You just have to accept that. Don’t go chasing that winning feeling.
Problem Gambling Even if You’re Winning
That old adage: “It’s not a gambling problem if you’re winning.” Man, that phrase couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything you do in life has an opportunity cost in the form of time. Over in our popular Unabated Discord Community we have a #life_ev channel. This is where people can discuss life things outside of the gambling realm. A popular refrain is that sports betting and the pursuit of having an advantage takes a lot of work and time. Advantage play will take all the time you give it and still want more. Time is something you can’t get back if you lose it all. Be aware of the effect your sports betting pursuit has on the people around you in your life. It may not be a problem to you, but it might be a problem to them.
Know Your Resources
The popular narrative on problem gambling is that once it is a problem, you are a reckless gambler in everything you do. The only answer is complete cessation of gambling. Unfortunately, for an aspirational sharp like yourself, that’s just not true. You know the good forms of gambling and the bad, you just have a hard time staying on the right path.
The general public will tell you to just call 1-800-GAMBLER. While that is a great resource that helps many, it might not be right for you. My advice is to talk to someone who understands what you do and open up to them about issues you’ve been having. That can be tough because the fraternity of aspirational sharps is pretty small.
Most of you won’t want to acknowledge to a peer that you have a problem for fear of being judged. I can relate. I’ve been there at times over the past 20 years. However, your plight is not as unique as you might think. Reach out and try to find someone. Just saying or typing it out can greatly help you understand your motives and weaknesses better. You can always come by the #life_ev channel on our Discord if you’re looking for someone.
In the end, problem gambling does exist and perhaps there is an awareness issue that warrants having a month dedicated to it. However, for the sports bettor, it’s a bit different. A bit more nuanced. I hope you understand where the pitfalls are on your journey forward as an aspirational sharp and I hope this article has helped you. You can always find me in the Unabated Community Discord or on Twitter @capjack2000.
This site is strictly for educational and informational purposes only and does not involve any real-money betting. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call 1-800-GAMBLER. This service is intended for adults aged 18 and over only.