Betting on point spreads, or spread betting, is a type of wagering on the outcome of a sporting event where the pay-off is based on the accuracy of the wager, rather than a straightforward “win or lose” outcome. For example, instead of a moneyline bet for the Raiders to outright defeat the underdog Steelers (NFL) a spread bettor may wager on the favored Raiders to win by 7 or more points (+7). For the Raiders to cover the spread, they must win by more than seven points. If they do, the bettor wins. Moreover, the bettor often wins more than they would on a standard win/lose moneyline wager.
Spread betting has been touted as a way to level the playing field and make sports more exciting and engaging for fans who want more skin on the game. What it has actually done, is create significantly more risk along with a world of other problems for America’s problem gambling population. Let’s review.
How Point Spread Betting Targets Vulnerable Gamblers and Has Inflated the Risk of Gambling Problems Across the USA
Invented to Ensure the House Always Wins
The odds of winning a moneyline win/lose wager are favorable for the bettor when there is a clear favorite and a clear underdog. Theoretically, if a sports bettor always bet on a win/lose outcome and only wagered on the favorite, they would come out on top in the long run. This is why spread betting was invented – to protect the financial interests of casinos and other operators who offer sports betting. Spread betting is why the House always wins. They know that most gamblers will take the route which offers the prospect of a greater payday, no matter how much greater the risk is. Ultimately, players consistently choose the path that has a higher likelihood of losing. This leads us to one of the biggest dangers of sports betting – financial loss. It comes not just from lost wagers, but from continued gambling to cover gambling debt. When more gambling doesn’t cover it, a number of individuals turn to crime, while most pay a mental health toll. Any tactic undertaken by bookmakers to increase bettor risk therefore inflates the potential for harm, especially for those who exhibit compulsive gambling behavior.
Preys Upon Risk-Taking Personalities
The allure of spread betting is not just about the potential for a bigger payout. The risk factor appeals to thrill seekers and risk takers which are personality traits commonly found in problem gamblers. Numerous studies have validated a positive relationship between pathological gambling and sensation seeking. Furthermore, gambling can raise dopamine levels which can cause individuals to keep gambling even when losing. This is what is referred to as a “gambler’s high”. It’s a part of why someone who just suffered a loss on a Saturday college basketball game will continue to wager on the next game/s on the afternoon schedule.
Creates Opportunity for Corruption in Sports
Match fixing and spread betting go hand-in-hand. The concept of spread betting better allows corrupt individuals and organizations to control the outcome of a game through bribery and threats. They know that a referee, coach, or player is unlikely to throw an entire game (and take a loss) but a referee, coach, or player is more likely to be coerced to shave off a few points in favor of invested stakeholders. Match fixers particularly prey on the mental health vulnerability of athletes. If point spreads were removed from sports betting, the potential for corruption (and correlated problem gambling concerns) would theoretically be reduced.
Increases Risk of Violence Against Players?
Sports fans have always had a contentious relationship with athletes. They love a player one day, and hate them the next. They also love to hate certain players. It’s this passion that can make sports fun, but if someone is not of sound mind it can be a problem. When a player is “responsible” (by scoring or not scoring, etc.) for a gambler’s loss, a gambler with problematic mental health may turn to verbal, digital (via social media), or even physical abuse. Spread betting adds another layer to this risk of abuse against athletes because there is much more gambler’s risk involved. If a basketball player misses a single free throw that results in a bettor losing against the spread (even though his/her team may have won) a disgruntled individual may seek to cause them harm. Think we’re exaggerating? The FBI doesn’t think so.
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