Therapists warn the ease of sports betting is fueling gambling addiction

Super Bowl Betting Football
Posted at 9:16 AM, Feb 07, 2024

KENOSHA — With the Super Bowl just days away, a record high amount of money is expected to be gambled on the big game. It has some therapists worried about how the legalization of sports betting is fueling addictions.


"For some individuals gambling is fun,” said Doug LaBelle, gambling disorder therapist.

Now, all it takes it a click of your phone.

“For others, with a gambling disorder, gambling is a way to stop pain,” said LaBelle.

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Doug LaBelle, gambling disorder therapist based in Kenosha.

In 2018, the Supreme Court allowed states to legalize sports betting. Now 38 states, including Wisconsin, have some form of sports betting. Since that change, LaBelle has seen an increase in patients.

“It is because it is so differently easy to gamble,” said LaBelle.

In Wisconsin, you can go in-person and place bets at sports books inside the casinos. But there are also websites and apps that legally allow people to gamble on sports. The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling says in the state it's estimated about 333,000 people might have some kind of a gambling problem for them. In the last year, executive director Rose Blozinski says they had 15,520 contacts to their 1-800-GAMBLE-5 hotline and website.

“As accessibility increases, sports betting and other types of gambling, the amount of people doing it is increasing, which again increases the amount of people who may become addicted to it,” said Blozinski.

A growing concern for therapists is how many young people are trying gambling. Dr. Munther Barakat from Aurora Health Care says the younger a person is when they start gambling, the more likely they are to become addicted.

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Dr. Munther Barakat from Aurora Health Care says the younger a person is when they start gambling the more likely they are to become addicted.

"Two thirds of teenagers have reported gambling at least once,” said Barakat. “There are biological brain changes that occur the more you engage in that behavior.”

LaBelle says the hardest thing for a lot of gamblers is realizing how they are gambling is not fun, but it is a problem.

Super Bowl Betting Football
A customer, right, makes a sports bet at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. On Feb. 7, 2023, the gambling industry's national trade group, the American Gaming Association, predicted that over 50 million American adults will bet a total of $16 billion on this year's Super Bowl, including legal bets with sports books, illegal ones with bookies, and casual bets among friends or relatives. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

"For the majority of the people, set limits. Set time limits you are going to gamble. Set amounts you are going to gamble, set frequency you are going to gamble and then hold to those,” said LaBelle.

According to the National Association of Addiction Professionals, people with problems gambling have the high rate of suicide attempts of any addiction. If you or someone you know needs help you can dial 9-8-8 or 1-800-GAMBLE-5.