This article is the 2nd of a 4-part series on this topic. Check out the first article “Sports Betting: What’s Going On?“
Is it just me, or can we not watch a sporting event these days without the constant barrage of sports gambling ads, pre-game odds commentary, and in-game betting strategies?
Seemingly out of nowhere, we see sports betting everywhere. But this didn’t happen by chance. In 2021, Canada legalized single-game sports betting, and from there, the floodgates opened into television, radio, social media, venues, and merchandise.
What is sports betting? Basically, it is a wager between two or more people on the outcome of a sports event. But in recent years, this has been amplified and commodified at an unprecedented level in Canada.
So, what are some of the realities we should be thinking about to understand and respond appropriately? There are four BIG considerations:
1. Big Business
From high-profile celebrities to slick commercials, this is a mammoth industry vying for our attention.
- US spending on sports betting advertising will be close to $1.8 billion this year.
- The American Gaming Association in 2022 reported that Americans bet a record $93.2 billion legally on sports, a second record year.
- The 2023 Super Bowl saw a record 50.4 million American adults planning to wager $16 billion.
- In its first year of business, 2022-2023, iGaming Ontario reported more than 1.6 million active player accounts and $35.6 billion in total wagers, putting the province among the top five iGaming jurisdictions in North America.
You can bet your bottom dollar (pardon the pun) that this is big business, designed to pull enormous revenues out of the pocket of the average Joe.
2. Big Numbers
The exponential increase in people participating in gambling in general is staggering.
- Statistics Canada’s 2018 study found that 5% of Canadians aged 15 or older gambled at least once in the previous year.
- There are over 3 million active online gamblers in Canada, with 43% of women and 56% of men gambling online.
- Overall, 60% of Canadians report spending monthly on games and gambling.
- Interestingly, a November 2022 Ipsos survey found that 48% of Canadians 18+ agree that gambling advertising is excessive and needs to be curtailed; 63% agreed that gambling ads should be restricted.
The involvement in gambling, particularly sports betting, is massive, with no signs of slowing down.
3. Big Impact
Sports betting has a particular and vulnerable target: young men. This is not the only audience, but it is a significant one.
- The fastest-growing, most vulnerable, and most problematic sports bettors are typically people in their twenties, aided by phones and pervasive advertising. Gambling addiction risks grew 30% from 2018 to 2021, with the risk concentrated among young males 18 to 24.
- In 2019, the UK government opened its first gambling clinic for children, citing findings that 55,000 of the country’s estimated 395,000 problem gamblers were kids aged 11 to 16.
- Underage gambling is common and increasing in Canada. According to estimates, children under 18 comprise 10% of the television sports audience. Normalizing a gambling culture at such early ages has the potential for enormous harm.
The risks are significant for a young, vulnerable, and developing generation, especially young men.
4. Big Problems
There is no debate that gambling can cause significant problems in people’s lives.
- Statistics Canada estimated that 1.6% of adult gamblers are at moderate to high risk of gambling disorders—more than 300,000 Canadians.
- While sports betting can be fun for some, for others, the dopamine hit can turn into addictions, rivalling tobacco, alcohol, or opioids.
- Like other addictions, gambling activates a reward system in the brain and problem gambling is described as a mental health issue and defined as an addictive disorder.
- The darker side of predatory gambling preys on human weakness and vulnerable populations (low-income workers, retirees, minorities, and people with disabilities) for profit. It leads to higher rates of addiction and gambling losses, organized crime, and social issues.
There is so much more here than meets the eye. Maybe we should stop and think before we get swept up in the momentary excitement and enticed by the desire for easy money. Perhaps we should ask deeper questions about what we are participating in and whether it is helpful or harmful.
Paul wrote to the young man and Christian leader, Timothy, to warn and encourage him:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:10-11, NIV)
These words still have relevance today, especially in a society that has normalized and even celebrated behaviours that do cause “many griefs” for countless people. For the man who wants to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, the yardstick is the Word of God. According to these verses, discipleship involves both a fleeing and a pursuit. It is still relevant in our day and age to ask what we need to flee and what we need to pursue.
You can bet on it…or not.
The next article in our 4-part series explores a Biblical perspective on this social phenomenon that will help navigate these realities. As well, our final article is called “Sports Betting: How Do I Get Free?“