The Inevitable Spike in Gambling Addiction Among Youth Across the US

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:

Living in New Jersey, you've seen the advertisements on television and as soon as you depart the Lincoln Tunnel.  It's nearly impossible to escape the exposure to legalized sports wagering in the Garden State.

And guess what?  Your kids are seeing these commercials and billboards as well.

That's why experts have sounded the warning.

New Jersey 101.5 points to how the state continues to focus almost exclusively on geo-fencing (ensuring all bets are placed within the state's borders), so much so that regulators may have dropped the ball on making sure minors cannot place bets.

"Once the app is open and ready for wagers, operators can't really tell who's placing the bets," Dino Flammia of NJ 101.5 notes.

Offshore sportsbooks, which the American Gaming Association works so diligently to demonize, made it a priority in the early days of that sector's emergence to prevent minors from gambling on their sites.  That was without all the tools widely available today.

Industry observers say the major barriers to underage gambling are basically gone, at least in New Jersey. And while we won't know the full effect of online wagering on youth for several years, they say it's inevitable that there will be more issues thanks to easier access today.


Another concern, advertising on television, radio, or the web, with promotions for free bets and money-back offers makes the act of gambling seem cool, sort of like those old Joe Camel cigarette ads.

"This makes a very, very big impression upon our kids," said Felicia Grondin, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey.

Regulators are starting to take notice and cracking down severely, just not anywhere in the US it seems.

We're talking about the United Kingdom.

When offshore sports betting emerged in the late 1990's and early 2000's, the UK served as the dream jurisdiction where football clubs proudly had their players wear jerseys advertising local bookmakers and a bookie shop could be found on nearly every street corner.  That's all come to a crashing halt in recent years.

A study carried out by the Gambling Commission in 2019 revealed that up to 450,000 children between the ages of 11 and 16 bet regularly, which is said to dwarf the number of children who drink, smoke and take drugs.

Since that time, The United Kingdom's underage gambling prevention efforts include the installation of new age-estimation technology on betting machines in bars, pubs, and elsewhere.

Last summer, the Premier League took a vote to determine whether gambling brands should be prohibited as shirt sponsors.  They have since delayed voting only after the minister responsible for the betting sector resigned.  A ban on reality stars displaying such ads was imposed last spring.  There is still obvious resistance, but for how long?

No more top-flight footballers or other high-profile sportspeople promoting the latest odds,” said Shahriar Coupal, the director of the Committee of Advertising Practice, in an interview tih the Guardian.  Her organization sets the rules enforced by the UK’s advertising watchdog. “No more social media influencers, TV stars or other celebrities popular with children inviting us to bet on red. And, no more gambling ads featuring video game images or gameplay familiar to many children’s lives.”

As for New Jersey, it's a state that got a jump on regulated sports betting up to four years prior to a number of other states like Ohio and Massachusetts.  What happens in New Jersey will inevitably occur in these other states just as we are seeing with the UK.

Lia Nower, director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers, says that six percent of NJ residents have a "serious gambling problem." That is three times the national average.

"There are no education or prevention programs in schools to alert students to the dangers of problem gambling or teachers or administrators to the need to identify and screen for gambling problems," Nower told New Jersey 101.5.

On Friday, Dr. Phil McGraw featured a segment on regulated sports betting in the US.

“From a psychological standpoint, One of the dangers (with sports betting) is this kind of delusion of control as opposed to pulling a slot arm," the show's host offered.  He was referring to the amount of information readily available to gamblers on the net.  "There is a sense they have some control”.

US states even more further along in the sports betting regulatory process like Nevada do incorporate more stringent policies that should, at least in theory, prevent minors from gambling online in the Silver State.  Nevada requires its residents to register in person to open an online wagering account.  Unless Little Johnny stands 6 feet tall and presents a fake ID, minors will be blocked entirely during the signup process.

While not ideal for the bottom line and revenue stream, we are likely to see other states follow suit in the not-so-distant future as a means to curb addiction and prevent underage gambling.

The legal ramifications could far outweigh any boost in tax benefits for these states.

Colorado, one of the early states to embrace regulated sports betting, has already called on a reduction in advertisements targetting residents.

"I thought that there was going to be at least some type of slowdown," the Democratic Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Alec Garnett, said back in September 2021. 

That is indeed telling. Garnett was among those at the forefront of ensuring sports betting got legalized via voter referendum.  The initiative narrowly passed.

"I have seen a big uptick in the number of complaints from the public that we’ve been having about the amount of sportsbook advertising," Garnett remarked.

By February of last year, Garnett was already considering measures to curb said advertising.

“I thought that the industry or the market itself would start to regulate itself,” he said.

He was wrong. 

- Chris Costigan, Publisher

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