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As pro sports goes all-in on gambling, society is left to count the true cost

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NASHVILLE (BP) – “Welcome to the 2027 NFL Draft! We’re coming to you from the Caesar’s Sportsbook Stage, courtesy of BetMGM, with additional commentary from the DraftKings desk back in the studio. But as we watch the FanDuel blimp circling above the festivities, we first have this word from Genius Sports, the exclusive sports betting data provider of the NFL.”

The only thing matched by the pomp and festivities of the NFL Draft, held tonight in Detroit, may be the level at which gambling has become entwined with the league (All the companies in the fake intro are actual NFL partners).

The concern spreads to all sports. When baseball’s biggest star becomes embroiled in a $41 million betting scandal, people begin to wonder about gambling’s ultimate payout.

“We want to show that the detriments are more than the benefits,” said Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “Gambling supporters point to the tax revenue and how it can help fund education.”

He specifically targets predatory gambling such as sports betting, parimutuel horse racing and video poker machines. There is a definite grooming aspect to draw people, even minors, into participating.  

“We’ve seen the data on how addictive gambling can be and that up to one-third of gamblers will attempt suicide,” he said. “It’s going to end up costing you.”

A bad deal

A 2018 Supreme Court decision took out a federal ban on state authorization for sports betting that had exempted Nevada. Other states jumped at the opportunity practically overnight, and today 38 of them offer legal gambling.

Legislatively, there is little connecting California and Georgia. But they are the only two states where sports gambling legislation has been defeated. A 2022 rejection by California voters has set up a massive showdown over the issue.

As sports betting has gathered steam, though, many are beginning to wonder if it is out of control. Studies show how it rewires the brain. A late three-pointer can affect the point spread and bring death threats, as one Purdue basketball player experienced this year. 

Andrew Hurley is a senior walk-on for the national champion University of Connecticut. Occasionally his coach and dad, Dan, would put him in at the end of Huskies blowouts and the younger Hurley will hear chants to shoot the ball. He would wonder later if money was riding on those shots.

“It’s scary at the end of games,” he told the Boston Globe. “I don’t fully understand how much of [sports betting] works. … During the game I’m not thinking about that, but in the locker room after the game I’m thinking, ‘I hope nobody is out there jumping me for what I did in the game.’”

Increasing effects

The NFL previously had never broached the idea of having anything to do with Las Vegas due to its gambling background, and yet there was Sin City hosting the Super Bowl in February. The result was a record $185.6 million in wagers on the game by Nevada’s sportsbooks.

Sure, there were winners in those bets. But as everyone knows, there are far more losers than winners.

States are noticing an alarming rise in calls to gambling hotlines, with numbers more than doubling. It’s costing homes and relationships and skewing toward men in their 20s and 30s.

“We believe, nationwide, the rate and severity of gambling problems have increased across the United States since 2018,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling which operates a helpline at 1-800-GAMBLER, in an NBC News report.

Griffin is in his 11th year as Public Policy representative. His predecessor, the late Ray Newman, was also pushing back on attempted sports betting legislation as early as 2010.

This year there were at least 12 gambling bills, which Griffin shared in detail in a column for Georgia Baptists’ state news journal, The Christian Index. He knows he’ll have to suit up for battle again next year against gambling proponents.

“It won’t stop trying until Jesus comes back,” he said.

“They are misled into thinking that they can fix a problem by regulating it. … If you regulate it too well, though, there won’t be as much money to make. You need the problem gamblers. You need to increase the opportunities to gamble and entice more people to do it.

“The house has to win.”