Updated February 11, 2023 at 11:51 AM ET
The annual Super Bowl is the world's biggest one-day sporting event. On Sunday, more than 100 million Americans are expected to watch this year's NFL championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles on TV.
For an increasing number of sports fans, simply watching the game is no longer enough. They raise the stakes by placing bets on the game. But the rapid growth of sports betting in the U.S. contributes to an increased risk of addiction, and experts call on sports leagues and other stakeholders to do more to protect the vulnerable.
The American Gaming Association estimates that a record of 50.4 million American adults will bet on Sunday's game, with bettors planning to wager an estimated $16 billion. That's more than double the estimate of $7 billion last year.
"We've seen remarkable growth in the sports betting market since the Supreme Court invalidated the federal prohibition on sports betting in 2018," says Casey Clark, senior vice president at AGA.
At least 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports betting since 2018.
"We believe the expansion of legalized sports gambling in the U.S. will likely increase gambling participation and problems," Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said before a House panel following the Supreme Court decision.
Whyte said last year that the council estimated that the risk of gambling addiction has increased by 30% from 2018 to 2021, with young men between 18 and 24 at risk.
And this potential risk could increase as more states are looking to legalize sports gambling.
"Sports betting is expanding rapidly, and I believe this is just the beginning," says Phil Sherwood, president of the NCPG's board of directors.
"The ability to place bets on your mobile device, having a casino in your pocket. That accessibility will really drive usage," he says.
Saul Malek is a 25-year-old student from Houston. He started betting on games in 2017 when he was just 19. Malek says he quickly realized that his gambling behavior was becoming problematic, but it took him more than two years to finally quit.
"I would bet every opportunity I had and run up a debt that I couldn't imagine possibly paying up. And I actually am still paying all these debts off," he says.
Malek, who attends Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says his gambling addiction has changed his relationship to sports. While still trying to follow his hometown Houston sports team, he says the flood of sports betting commercials makes it much more difficult to watch games.
"I'm not planning to watch the Super Bowl just because I can already imagine how much money is going to be spent on advertising there. So I don't really watch a whole lot of sports," he says.
The 2018 Supreme Court decision did not only broaden access to sports gambling, but also led to a change in attitudes among sports leagues and networks.
The NFL and other leagues saw sports betting just a few years ago as a potential threat to the integrity of the game. In 2012, they fought against the legalization of sports gambling in New Jersey.
Fast forward to today, all major sports leagues in the U.S. have one or more betting partners who pay hundreds of millions of dollars to be associated with the leagues.
In 2021, the NFL signed deals with Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel to be its first U.S. sports betting partners. While the NFL does not officially disclose the value and length of these deals, media reports citing sources familiar with these deals estimate the value at just shy of $1 billion over five years.
And the NFL will not only benefit from these deals itself, but also from increased TV advertising revenue, Sherwood said.
"They've realized through sports betting becoming legal in a few states and fantasy football that there are more eyeballs watching the games every Sunday, and that's driving up their advertising revenue. They really see this as an opportunity, regardless of which game you bet on," he says.
Not only sports leagues and media networks profit from legalized sports gambling, the industry has generated more than $2.45 billion in federal, state, and local taxes since 2018, according to data compiled by the ACA.
Experts believe that more of that money should go to public health.
"The failure of federal regulators to really enact federal protections around public health, to fund research around gambling and make sure that there are natural resources there or nationally, that's a huge problem," Sherwood says.
The NCPG estimates that about 2 million U.S. adults meet the criteria for serious gambling problems, while another 4 to 6 million are considered to have mild or moderate gambling problems.
"There's a certain compulsion that comes with the act of placing a bet and the whole thing that comes with the addiction that I don't think is adequately dealt with," Malek says.
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