Young Sports Bettors More At-Risk Than Their Predecessors

At press, we’re just days away from Super Bowl LVII. The biggest sports betting event on the calendar is quickly followed by another – NCAAB March Madness. After that comes the NBA Playoffs, and before you know it sportsbooks will be clamoring to secure new registrations for NFL and NCAAF Week 1 all over again. It’s a relentless cycle.

In addition to being big draws for sports bettors, these leagues have another audience in common – youth. The maintenance of a young fan base is the key to viewership sustainability. Unfortunately, the same is true for the U.S. sportsbooks that generate revenue from interest in the big leagues. Research recently conducted by Rutgers found that  the fastest-growing group of sports bettors are young adults, ages 21 to 24. Why is this shift so unfortunate? Because numerous reports state that sports betting is tied to poor mental health. And more specific to this topic – young sports bettors are especially vulnerable to the negative consequences. They already face a number of mental health stressors coming out of high-school which reverberate into their collegiate experience. When you add the risks associated with gambling, you compound their behavioral health concerns even further. Even more concerning, is that this is a relatively new problem, and as such, the country is not yet equipped to provide adequate support.

Below is a breakdown of why this new mental health crisis is brewing amongst young Americans.

5 Ways Today’s Youth Are More Vulnerable to Problem Gambling than Generations Before (and what can be done about it)

1. Nearly 3-Dozen U.S. States (and counting) Have Legalized Sports Betting

Prior to 2018, Americans weren’t allowed to bet on sports with the exception of those residing in regulated states (i.e. Nevada). Sports betting among younger populations was relegated to the shadows of dorm rooms and wagers between friends. That all changed when the federal ban was removed in 2018. Since then, nearly three dozen U.S. states have legalized sports betting. Thus far in 2023 both Ohio and Massachusetts have been added to the growing map. Within a span of just five years, our youth will grow up in a nation that has essentially normalized sports betting.

2. Primary Users of Gambling Enabled Devices

The proliferation of mobile device (smartphones and tablets) usage has been led by our nation’s youth. They use it for school work and to bide idle time. The sports betting industry has invested heavily to shift from on-site kiosks (in brick and mortar casinos) and traditional web-based gaming (desktop/laptop) to the development of mobile responsive platforms and apps. As a result, they reach young people on the devices they use most to consume content, game, and gamble. Smartphones and tablets enable users to gamble more. This is something that did not exist for generations before.

3. Greatly Influenced by Influencers

Sure, we have always looked up to professional athletes and Hollywood celebrities. To some extent we have all been swayed to make a purchase decision based upon their endorsement of a product or service. However, it’s one thing to buy a Coke or even a new car because a famous person backed it. It’s something else when they encourage you to adopt an activity that may fundamentally alter your behavioral health.

That is what it occurring today, as sportsbooks have doled out millions of dollars to famous athletes, celebrities, and others who are deemed to be influencers. And do you know who is more influenced by these influencers? You guessed it. American consumers between 18 to 34 years of age are more likely to be swayed by influencer driven gambling marketing than any other age group. Furthermore, younger populations are being inundated by these messages on their very own college campuses.

4. They’re Getting an Earlier Start

For a number of activities, getting a head-start in life is a good thing. Becoming an early adopter of fitness, healthy eating, travel, education, real estate investment, and more can lead to very positive outcomes. But when it comes to gambling, early adoption is a problem:

“That’s because the younger that people start gambling, the more activities they bet on. And the more frequently they bet, the more likely they are to develop serious gambling problems. Studies suggest that those who gamble as young adults have higher-than-average rates of problem gambling.”

The Conversation

Everything addressed above, in addition to the integration of gambling activities in video game platforms that are primarily used by youth, gives young Americans an early start in gambling that generations before didn’t have.

5. They Have Limited Access to Mental Health Support.

As populations grow, access to proportionately sound access to mental health resources typically wanes. Unfortunately, the demand for support is increasing among youth in the USA. Below are concerning numbers from key states (where sports betting is legal) with respect to i) those aged 12-17 who have experienced a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) and ii) percentage of residents living in a community without adequate access to mental health professionals:

  • Arizona: Nearly 13% of those aged 12-17 have experienced MDE / 39% of all residents live in a community without adequate access to mental health professionals.
  • Nevada: Nearly 13% of those aged 12-17 have experienced MDE / 80% of all residents live in a community without adequate access to mental health professionals.
  • Virginia: Nearly 16% of those aged 12-17 have experienced MDE / 22% of all residents live in a community without adequate access to mental health professionals.
  • New Jersey: Nearly 14% of those aged 12-17 have experienced MDE / 40,000 residents live in a community without adequate access to mental health professionals.
  • Ohio: Nearly 17% of those aged 12-17 have experienced MDE / 20% of all residents live in a community without adequate access to mental health professionals.
  • View more states here.

You may assume that youth are getting the help they need, but even in states with robust support systems where is a void. Take Ohio for example, where nearly 54% of the 12–17 age group with depression did not receive any care in the most recent year.

The table has been set to create a new generation of gamblers, with little being done to protect them at a federal level:

“Gambling treatment services vary by state, from specially trained, culturally competent counselors in a few states to a total lack of services in others. Most children and teens receive no education in schools about problem gambling as they do for drugs and alcohol. Some universities are openly partnering with gambling companiesand sponsoring esports competitions, which invite underage betting.

The Conversation

It is clear that young sports bettors in America (and prospective ones) need greater access to mental health support, with a focus on problem gambling. This is where Kindbridge Behavioral Health comes in in. We offer dedicated therapy for problem gambling at individual, family, group, and organizational levels.

Concerned Families, Young Americans, Groups, and Organizations:

CALL +1 (877) 426-4258


Email [email protected]