Young adults find it hard to avoid sports betting

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EAST LANSING, Mich.—Since 2019, one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States has been the sports gambling industry. According to the American Gaming Association, $119.8 billion was wagered on sports in 2023 across the United States. When the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018, the legalization of sports gambling across the country began. As of 2024, 38 states have legalized sports gambling. Twenty-eight of those states have also legalized online sports gambling. One of those states is Michigan.

Michigan legalized sports gambling in December 2019 and legalized online sports betting in January 2021. This means that anyone in the state of Michigan who is over the age of 21 is allowed to legally bet on sports in person and online. This legalization has caused a lot of young adults, both over and under the age of 21, to start gambling. The most popular form of gambling amongst young adults is online sports gambling. According to a recently published study by St. Bonaventure University and the Siena College Research Institute, more than 30% of 18 to 34-year-olds nationwide have online sportsbook accounts. An earlier study by the NCAA also reported that nearly 80% of college students surveyed stated they would be persuaded by sports betting advertisements to participate, whether they were of legal age or not. This form of gambling can be very dangerous for young adults, especially those who don’t have steady incomes. 

There are several forums online, especially on Reddit, where young adults share discourse surrounding sports gambling. One Reddit user named “J_-Biscuit” shared his story in a forum post titled “Underage, I have a gambling addiction.” The user describes how he amassed $30,000 in gambling debt 17 years old. “One year ago I discovered online gambling through an advertisement made by a Youtuber. I have already lost roughly 30k that I saved up by doing errands and cutting down a lot of goods. My father and my mother don’t know about this and I won’t tell this to anybody unanonymously because I can’t trust no one and I know that this all is bad.”

Because of the illegality of underage sports gambling, true statistics of the pervasiveness of sports gambling on college campuses is difficult to pinpoint. Drew Wojtowicz, a Michigan resident, began online sports gambling before he turned 21, more than four years ago.

“I think the sports gambling industry has purposefully targeted young adults. It has affected a lot of people that I know very well,” Wojtowicz said. “I think sports gambling companies have made gambling seem like everyone is a winner when few become winners and a lot end up losers.” 

Non-gambler and Michigan State University student Jacob Noble said he sees gambling a lot more among his classmates in the last year than he has before.

“It’s definitely a problem for the young adult crowd,” Noble said. Adults who are financially stable and enjoy betting bits of money from time to time to make sports more intriguing is fine. A person needs to have financial stability before they should be betting their money away.”

This increasing availability and advertising surrounding sports gambling is starting to make it difficult for young adults to avoid. Advertisements from companies like FanDuel, BetMGM and DraftKings commonly air during major sporting events and on most ad-based streaming platforms like Amazon Prime and Hulu. These advertisements bring bettors in with promotions that seem too good to be true.

Jim Owens is a Lansing Community College Counselor and the host of the podcast “Headroom with Jim Owens”, which discusses mental, emotional, and behavioral health among college students. Owens spoke on the science behind addiction and why he believes young adults need to begin thinking more long-term before getting involved with sports gambling.

“With all due respect, one of the issues with young adults is that they have not yet had enough experience to think more long term of the consequences of what they are doing,” Owens said. “Young adults are often thinking about what their future life will look like, but they aren’t exactly as well-attuned to thinking about the habits that they are creating and how those will inevitably become long-term habits.” 

Owens also offered up his best piece of professional advice to young adults struggling with any kind of addiction.

“Addiction counselors don’t really talk about addiction. We would rather talk about what you want your ideal life to look like,” Owens said. “Rather than turn to the addiction and say, ‘Don’t you want to get rid of this and quit?’ we turn towards the life you want. We ask: ‘What is the highest quality world for you and how do you get that?'”

As legalization continues, more and more young adults will likely battle a sports gambling addiction. This is a hobby that has the potential to be very fun and rewarding, but the line between rewarding and detrimental is very thin. For college students, it can be hard to weigh the long-term ramifications of sports betting with the industry’s new ease of use. However, universities are beginning to take the dangers for students seriously. In 2023, MSU reversed a deal with Caesars Sportsbook due to pressure from politicians’ and the MSU community’s concerns of underage gambling addiction.

College campuses, including MSU and LCC, are beginning to offer services for students facing gambling addiction. For those in need of help with gambling or other addictions, students can visit MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services or Olin Health Center.

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