Remember when we decided that spending too much time on our phones was a bad thing? That immersing ourselves in our iPhones could be unhealthy, or even addictive?
That was a couple of years ago. So riddle me this: Now something that we already know is potentially addictive — sports betting — is available on those phones, accompanied by a media blitz promising a path to easy money. But people raising concerns about that combination seem few and far between. So what happens to the sports betting industry if someone — namely Apple or Google, which have enormous control over what you can do with your phones — decides they do have a problem with that?
Because whether you approve of gambling or not, it seems obvious that making it easily available to anyone with a phone and debit card, with few to no restrictions and a ton of advertising encouraging you to place your bets, is going to lead to problems for some people. This isn’t one of those stories about the unintended consequences we get from tech: It’s right there, on the surface.
“It is an epidemic in the making,” says Felicia Grondin, the executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, where online sports betting has been legal since 2018. Since then, she says, it has been easy to understand the impact: Before the summer of 2018, about 3 percent of the calls to her organization’s helpline for problem gamblers were from people who said they had sports betting problems. Now that number is around 17 percent.
New Jersey is the tip of the gambling spear because it’s the state directly responsible for the Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that gave individual states the ability to legalize online sports betting. But a flood of states has followed, egged on by the promise of easy tax money — or the threat that they’ll be losing that money to neighboring states where online betting is legal.
Big, well-capitalized companies — established gambling outfits like MGM Resorts and relative newcomers like DraftKings and FanDuel — are pouring in. They want you to start betting on sports directly from your couch, or your car, or the bar, placing wagers on NFL games or Olympic hockey or the 2023 Rugby World Cup or anything else with a couple of taps. And they’re spending a ton of money to convince you: DraftKings alone spent $1 billion on sales and marketing last year and plans to spend even more in 2022. (Disclosure: Vox Media has a commercial relationship with DraftKings.)
And there’s obviously a market for this. In the runup to legalization, there was …….