A customer places a sports bet at the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, last month. In November, California voters will decide the fate of two ballot measures to legalize various forms of sports betting.
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Since the US Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that states can legalize sports betting, California – with 40 million people and several professional teams – has been the great white whale, avoiding gambling companies and tribal communities that host casinos. At stake is $3.1 billion in annual revenue, According to an industry consulting firm.
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It’s no surprise, then, that voters will be faced with not one but two ballot propositions this fall aimed at capturing California’s sports betting market. Although neither seems to have strong public support, gambling addiction experts worry about one much more than the other.
Proposition 26, which is backed by some of the nation’s largest tribal casino owners, would allow sports betting, but only inside existing establishments that already offer gambling and at horse racing venues. In contrast, Proposition 27, designed and funded by national corporate gaming sites such as DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM, would legalize online sports betting, essentially opening the door for people to bet on games — and the athletes and the game in them — whether they are. Again sit in the stands or on a sofa.
All measures will likely increase cases of problem gambling and gambling addiction, but mental health experts say how easy it is to bet online — on scores, player point totals, the number of penalties in a game, and almost anything else related to a sporting event — increases the chance of trouble.
“You’re not addicted to full-season fantasy football; you’re addicted to in-game gambling,” says Dr. Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist and co-director of UCLA’s Gaming Studies Program. My”.
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Sports betting is already legal in some form in 36 states and Washington, D.C., and calls for gambling helplines have emerged in Michigan, Connecticut, New York and other states after they allowed this form of gambling. The National Problem Gambling Help Network reported a 45% increase in inquiries year-on-year in 2021, with 11 states going live with some new form of sports betting.
Although gambling addiction does not involve ingesting drugs or chemicals, it does involve stimulating parts of the brain in the same way that other addictive disorders do. The American Psychiatric Assn. Classifies gambling as such, placing it in the same category as tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, hashish and opioids. Studies show that mesolimbic dopamine, which provides feelings of reward and pleasure to the brain, is released in greater amounts in pathological gamblers than in people in control groups. Punters love this prize.
California voters may be asked next year whether to legalize betting on professional and college sports. Tribes, card club owners and online gaming companies all compete for a piece of the action.
For many countries, the attraction is clear: tax revenue. In 2020, Pennsylvania collected $38.7 million from gaming — three-quarters of which was generated by mobile sports betting. The nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that the state would collect hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes annually, but likely no more than $500 million annually, if Proposition 27 passes. The ministry put the state’s revenues from Proposition 26 at tens of millions of dollars a year. Some of that money would come from a 10% tax on sports betting at racetracks, and some could come from tribal casinos, which would have to renegotiate with the state.
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For weeks, Californians have been bombarded by competing ads in what has become the nation’s most expensive ballot initiative battle, at $400 million. Perhaps the struggle put off the voters. A recent UC Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies poll found that 42% of likely voters oppose Proposition 26, compared to 31% in favor. Support for Proposition 27 was even lower, with 53% of likely voters opposed and only 27% in favor.
Both ballot measures offer limited new resources to help people with gambling or addiction problems, and neither requires the state to improve monitoring or treatment.
The authors of Proposition 26 included a provision to direct 10% of sports betting revenue from horse racing tracks to the state’s public health department, with a portion of this money designated “to prevent and treat problem gambling,” according to attached material. Kaiser Health News supports the initiative. But racetracks have been in decline for decades, and their share of sports betting will be the smallest slice of the pie. Additionally, the amount that could be generated from tribal casinos is uncertain because it will depend on whether the new compacts require additional payments and direct funding for treatment programs.
Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the “Vote Yes on Proposition 26” campaign, noted that tribes already contribute about $65 million a year to the state Gaming Control Commission, which funds the problem gambling office. “Before tribes accepted casino gambling in California 20-plus years ago, there was no dedicated funding for problem gambling,” Fairbanks said. California has had a go-cart racetrack since the 1930s, and the lottery began in 1985.
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Proposition 27 would require the participating companies to pay 10% of the gross revenue from the games to the state. Of these, 85% were earmarked for homeless and mental health programs, including those for problem gambling.
Nathan Click, spokesman for the Yes on 27 campaign, said the initiative would implement the “strongest betting safeguards for online sports betting” and require employees at all licensed betting platforms to receive training on how to spot problem bets.
But psychologists say online gambling is instant, accessible and almost effortless. Anyone with a phone, tablet or computer can start with a credit card. And there is almost no limit to the bets that can be placed in a single game, even during the game.
“People don’t get addicted to mega-millions,” Fong said. “They get addicted to scratchers, with more bets per minute.”
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One of the ways the gambling industry entices people to keep playing is through promotional credits that essentially allow them to start gambling without spending their money. Rick Benson, founder of Algamus Gambling Treatment Services, said “free play” offers are not only common in casinos but are also widely marketed by websites and social networks, luring new gamblers into thinking they have nothing to lose.
This makes Proposition 27 more of a concern. Researchers from McGill University and the Oregon Research Institute found that online gaming is a gateway to behavioral disorders, including problem gambling, marked by continued gambling despite negative consequences in a person’s life, or full-blown, uncontrolled addiction. Gambling can lead to devastating consequences, such as bankruptcy, mental and family problems, and substance abuse.
Because Proposition 26 restricts gambling to casinos and racetracks, it could moderate activity. “Studies have shown that gambling participation is in some ways related to access,” said Robert Jacobson, executive director of the California Council on Problem Gambling. “Participation rates go up once people are within 50 to 60 miles of a casino.”
Still, how Proposition 26 will affect the prevalence of gambling is unclear because the section also clears the way for tribal casinos to add Las Vegas-style games, such as roulette and craps.
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The extent of problem gambling in California is also unclear, largely because the state’s Office of Problem Gambling has not updated its data since 2006. In August, a state audit declared that the office, whose annual budget is about $8.5 million, “did not evaluate its programs effectively. ” The office does not know how many Californians are experiencing or have recently experienced gambling-related problems.
Addiction researchers, however, believe the problem remains constant, with about 4% of residents experiencing problem gambling or gambling addiction. That equates to about 1.6 million Californians who may have a gambling problem, although the number could be much higher because fewer than 1 in 10 people with gambling disorders seek treatment.
Both initiatives would amend the state constitution so the legislature could create new laws to encourage sports. After that, the state agencies will have to formulate regulations for the operation of sports betting, which according to experts, gambling interests will be able to play.
This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Health News), one of the three major action programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). Sportsbet.io is a Bitcoin sports betting site where users can bet on a wide variety of sporting events.
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