Betting on sports increases risk of gambling problems according to new US research

As the betting slips fall to the ground and get soaked at the windy Flemington racecourse, new research released in the US today shows that young, religious men with a high income are more likely to gamble on sports.

The research also suggests betting on sports, including daily fantasy leagues, and betting on e-sports, all increase the risk of developing a gambling problem.

The researchers say that although sports betting is probably safe for most people, their findings suggest that people who bet on sports are at higher risk of gambling-related problems than those who don’t.

Gambling researcher Dr Alex Russell from Central Queensland University (CQU) says the American data is “pretty similar” to what is known about gambling in Australia.

“Sports betting has only really become a big thing again in the US since the Supreme Court ruling in 2018, whereas in Australia, it’s a lot more entrenched,” he says. “Having said that, Australia has more restrictions around sports betting, especially online, than the US does. The US seems to have gone all in, allowing most sorts betting products, although of course this varies by state.”

Dr Alex Russell: Image Science and Technology Australia

Russell led some research in 2019 in Australia that looked specifically at risk factors of people who gamble on sports.

In general, those at risk were younger, spoke a language other than English, were more engaged sports bettors and gamblers, and tended not to watch the event they had bet on. They particularly showed more signs of hedonism and had higher gambling urges, and were more likely to experience alcohol issues. Higher-risk sports bettors were also more likely to assign less responsibility for their gambling to themselves, and to have lower self control.

Gambling is a mostly male activity

Russell is not surprised by the demographics of today’s US data. “Sports betting is very much a male-dominated activity, and many studies have shown that younger men are most prone to problems. These findings are consistent in most countries, including Australia, the US and the UK.”

The US data focusses one demographic on race as a core issue in a way Australian researchers avoid.

“When we consider race or culture in Australian surveys, we might ask a few different questions, such as whether the participant identifies as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or if they speak a language other than English as their main language at home, or if they were born overseas. While these are different concepts, it is not unusual to find that people who identify as one or more of these factors experience higher levels of gambling problems.”

Read more from Cosmos: How to break the bookmakers

“With the US, they asked it in a different way, with categories such as White, Black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, etc; in line with US Census guidelines. If you look at the data for race over all the categories, pretty much every group has significantly higher levels of gambling problems compared to White participants.

“These findings highlight that, while the US might have more sports betting products available, it is still generally the same people who are most at risk of problems due to sports betting the world over: young men, including those culturally diverse backgrounds.”

The US study also examined level of religiosity, finding that those in the US who are more religious are more likely to experience higher levels of gambling problems.

“Religiosity has sometimes come up as a predictor of various gambling outcomes. It’s not usually a key variable of interest, though.”

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