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The Psychology of Sports Betting

Leading up to the 2021 Super Bowl, 23.2 million Americans reported plans to bet $4.3 billion on the game according to research by the American Gaming Association (AGA). “This year’s Super Bowl is expected to generate the largest single-event legal handle in American sports betting history,” said AGA President and CEO Bill Miller.

This blog explores what motivates people to bet on sporting events, and the connections between sports betting and gambling addiction.

What is sports betting?

Sports betting involves predicting the results of a sporting event and placing a bet on the outcome. Since the US Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports betting in May 2018, various states have legalized the sports betting industry. As a result, sports betting revenue in the US increased from $431m in 2018 to $1,550m in 2020 (Statista 2021) and much of this is generated by online sports betting.

In 2020, the National Council on Problem Gaming released a statement warning: “recent research suggests that gambling problems may increase as sports gambling grows explosively at the same time that mobile and online technologies evolve to create seemingly unlimited types of wagering opportunities.”

Why people engage in sports betting

In order to understand the psychology of sports betting, it is important to look at what motivates people to bet. A 2017 Statista survey asked US consumers: “What do you like about betting on sports?” There are eight main factors that encouraged them to engage in sports betting:

  • It makes the sport more interesting to me – 45%
  • I like to have a little side-game while watching the main event – 38%
  • It is a good way to compete with friends or colleagues – 34%
  • I like the excitement and thrill of betting – 29%
  • I like to deal with risk – 15%
  • I like to use my sport knowledge for something – 14%
  • It’s a kind of ritual for me and my friends/colleagues – 12%
  • Don’t know – 9%.

A 2020 UK study investigated: “Why do individuals engage in in-play sports betting?” The three main reasons cited by respondents were that it:

  • Increases excitement, interest and engagement with the game
  • Makes the game more intense when watching and betting on a match simultaneously
  • Allows gamblers to use their betting skill and knowledge.

Many of the reasons given above reflect healthy and controlled gambling behaviors. However, sports betting has the potential to cause significant disruption by becoming a gambling addiction.

Sports betting statistics

In a review of more than 140 studies and reports on the connections between sports betting and gambling addiction, the National Council on Problem Gambling found that:

  • The rate of gambling problems among sports bettors is at least twice as high as among gamblers in general.
  • 45% of sports betting now takes place online. This is problematic because online gambling is available 24/7, making it more convenient and providing more privacy.
  • People who place sports bets on mobile devices have a higher incidence of unhealthy gambling behaviors.
  • Young people have higher rates of gambling problems than adults; 75% of students gambled, according to data from 2018.
  • As online sports betting becomes more accessible and socially acceptable, particularly among younger players, we can expect these problems to get worse.
  • Aggressive advertising makes it more difficult for sports bettors who are trying to reduce or stop gambling.

Risks of sports betting

People who engage in excessive sports betting are likely to suffer financial, psychological and physical consequences from their inability to control or stop gambling.

Financial problems

Debts can stack up, making individuals unable to cover their outgoings. In extreme cases, people can resort to crime to fund their habit or go bankrupt.

Relationship breakdowns

Relationships can be destroyed as sports bettors lie or distance themselves from friends and loved ones to hide the extent of their addiction.

Work issues

Careers can be ruined due to poor performance, frequent absences and even gambling in the workplace, as the addiction consumes their life.

Poor physical health

People with sports betting addiction can suffer from a range of health issues linked to insufficient sleep, unhealthy eating and lack of exercise as an increasing amount of time is taken up with gambling.

Mental health problems

Excessive sports betting can take its toll on a player’s mental health and well-being as stress and anxiety about debt and lack of control over their life builds up.

Signs and symptoms of sports betting addiction

Many people try to hide their sports betting addiction, so the signs are not immediately obvious. However, you may have noticed – or be experiencing – some of the following unhealthy behaviors:

  • Excessive preoccupation with sports betting – constantly reliving past experiences, planning future bets and working out how to get more money to gamble.
  • Increased tolerance – needing to gamble more and more money to experience the same thrill.
  • Repeated unsuccessful attempts to cut back or stop sports betting.
  • Feeling restless or irritable when not planning or placing a bet.
  • Chasing losses.
  • Betting to cope with stress, anxiety, depression or other distressing feelings.
  • Hiding betting activities from friends, family and colleagues.
  • Experiencing significant disruption to work, education or finances.
  • Rely on others to help with money problems caused by betting.

Take our gambling disorder test.

How to get help for sports betting addiction

Sports betting addiction can get worse over time which is why it’s important to take action if you, or a loved one, are affected. There are a range of options for getting sports addiction help:

Recognize the problem

Recognizing that you have sports betting addiction and talking about the problem to a friend, relative or counselor is the first step to getting your life back on track.

Avoid temptations

Try to avoid the places and situations that make it tempting to engage in sports betting. Although, now that online gambling sites offer 24/7 access, this is not easy and is unlikely to help as a stand-alone tactic.

Control spending

Give someone you trust control of your finances to help restrict your access to funds and curb your compulsive sports betting.

Seek professional gambling therapy

At Kindbridge, we understand the psychology of sports betting.

One of our specialties is helping people with gambling problems – including sports betting addiction – recover. You will be matched with a fully-licensed therapist who will design a tailored treatment program to help you develop healthier habits and regain control of your life.

Get in touch to book a free and confidential 30-minute consultation.

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