The government’s monitoring of sports betting provides little consumer safeguards and relies on the business to regulate itself.
In January 2021, David Hummel placed his first sports wager, a $250 stake on the underdog, in a mixed martial arts match. He stated that winning $662.50 was the worst thing to have happened to him.
Mr. Hummel continued betting after being enticed by an offer of a “risk-free” wager; the gaming operator FanDuel offered to return his money if he lost. In a little more than a year, he had lost over $30,000, leaving him with $327 in his checking account.
Since 2018, when the Supreme Court cleared the way for extensive sports betting, the gambling business has honed techniques for attracting customers like Mr. Hummel. States are responsible for monitoring this young, rapidly growing economy.
The states are not apolitical entities. They collect taxes on gambling, and the more individuals gamble, the more money governments receive. As a result, states have granted gaming corporations unrestricted access in many respects.
An investigation by The New York Times revealed that they had imposed few customer protections. Allocating minimal cash to combatting addiction, and frequently turned to the gambling business to assist in developing legislation and police its compliance with them. Few states have experienced waves of gambling addiction. They have set limitations on the types of promotions that helped Mr. Hummel get addicted.
According to a Times poll of dozens of state gambling authorities, the enforcement of state prohibitions has been uneven, with fines often being minor or nonexistent. Some jurisdictions were so eager to get gambling up and running that they allowed enterprises to begin operations before conducting thorough reviews of their backgrounds and procedures.
In Iowa and Tennessee, sports betting organizations permitted gamblers to fund their accounts with credit cards. However, the states had prohibited such transactions from discouraging gambling debts.
In New York, betting companies accept tens of thousands of wagers on lower-division football and basketball events, even though they prohibit it.
And in Indiana, scores of individuals who had signed up for a state program to prevent them from gambling were nevertheless able to wager hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This year, state auditors chastised Mr. Hartman’s gambling commission for issuing temporary licenses to sports-betting operations without background checks. During the epidemic, Mr. Hartman partially blamed these and other shortcomings on staffing shortages.
It will likely take years for the economic and social impacts of legalized sports betting to become fully apparent. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, calls to the national hotline for people with gambling issues increased by 43 percent last year. However, it needs to be clarified how much of this increase is attributable to sports betting.
Executives and authorities in the gambling industry have claimed that even fragmentary control is preferable to the absence of safeguards in illegal betting markets. And industry representatives have touted their voluntary support for anti-addiction resources as evidence that companies can operate without stronger government regulations.
However, some proponents of legalized sports betting admit that they did not adequately consider the implications to public health.