Home » Study links sports betting with binge drinking

Study links sports betting with binge drinking

Bryan Anselm / The New York Times

Friends discuss their bets in the restaurant at the Meadowlands Racetrack, which houses FanDuel Sportsbook, a legal sports-betting venue, in East Rutherford, N.J., Sept. 9, 2018. On several Saturdays in September, there were hourslong lines outside the sports book. Some people couldn’t even place bets before game time. So the sports book expanded, moving upstairs and taking up the second floor. Turns out New Jersey really enjoys sports betting.

A new study shows that sports bettors are more likely to binge drink than individuals who are not gambling at all or who are gambling in another way.

The study from UNLV and the University of New Mexico included a survey of more than 4,000 people, and found that sports bettors engage in a lot more binge drinking — approximately five drinks per sitting — than their non-sports-betting counterparts, said co-author Shane Kraus, UNLV psychology professor and director of the Behavioral Addictions Lab.

“They just have more heavy alcohol use,” he said. “And we know heavy heavy alcohol use is a risk factor. It’s not a very good health behavior. So that’s the big takeaway — and it didn’t matter if they’re male or female. Men and women who do sports betting engage in a lot more drinking, or more binge drinking.”

The study, titled “Binge Drinking Among Sports Gamblers,” may be especially relevant considering the increasing legalization and popularity of sports wagering. The latter set a record handle of $119.8 billion in 2023, according to a February release from the American Gaming Association.

When looking at the potentially negative effects of sports betting, problem gambling is only one factor of the equation, said Joshua Grubbs, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico, investigator at the Center on Alcohol, Substance use and Addictions and co-author of the study.

Kraus and Grubbs wanted to look at another factor — specifically how sports wagering relates to substance use and alcohol-use disorder, and whether or not sports wagering is associated with more problems with drinking.

“And sure enough, that’s kind of what our research is finding,” Grubbs said, noting that risky drinking behavior is not only dangerous for one’s health and well-being but can also lead to dangerous outcomes, like driving under the influence of alcohol.

Sports bettors engaging in more reckless and dangerous patterns of drinking is not a total surprise, Grubbs said, considering that people famously drink a lot just watching sports, and gamblers tend to drink more than non-gamblers.

“So, if sports fans drink more than non-sports fans and gamblers drink more than non-gamblers,” he said, “it would make sense then that sports gamblers would drink more than non-sports gamblers.”

To avoid engaging in both problem gambling and problem drinking, Grubbs recommended that sports bettors “make a plan and stick to it.” That could mean setting limits on their bets and drinks beforehand.

When you’re in a bad place mentally, he said, you’re more likely to make impulsive bets that may sometimes lead to a win but will more often result in a loss.

“I tell gamblers all the time, ‘Look at your betting history when you’re drinking and not drinking — actually do a test of your own bets,’ ” he said. “And, invariably, what they find is that they make dumber bets when they’re drunk, which is not surprising, right?”

Kraus echoed the sentiment, encouraging people to place their bets before they start drinking.

“No live betting,” he said. “Don’t be four beers in and then suddenly start betting on all the parlays in the game. So that’s gonna be, I think, a risk factor … that’s where I think we can tell people, ‘Maybe, use some caution here. If you’re drinking, don’t be betting.’ ”

Many of the sportsbook mobile apps allow players to preset betting and deposit limits. The apps also prominently include a phone number and website to address problem gambling.

But some of those apps also display advertisements for “all sorts of different beer,” Grubbs said.

“Maybe we need to rethink that relationship,” he said. “Extra incentives to drink to a population that we know is at risk of binge drinking is, in my opinion, not a good path to go to.”

Over the past six years, sports betting has gone from being almost entirely centralized in Nevada to being available to most Americans, Grubbs said. It’s introduced a new gambling behavior and a new risk to a massive population, he said, and there need to be systems in place to prevent people from experiencing harm as much as possible.

Ted Hartwell, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, said it’s very common that people who develop a gambling problem also have a “co-occurring substance use disorder,” whether that’s alcohol or another type of substance.

He was glad to see the UNLV-UNM study come out, Hartwell said, because it joins a slew of existing research that shows sports bettors reporting the most significant problematic gambling behavior around their betting, and a tendency among them to engage in other types of gambling.

There’s also a major impact on a younger demographic of 18 to 24-year-olds, he said, particularly regarding “cognitive distortions” that make them think they will make way more money gambling.

“I think a lot of that is tied into the belief that, if I’ve played sports growing up — which lots of us have — it gives me an edge in knowledge of the sport,” he said. “So all of these things are interconnected, and it’s not surprising that we see, I think, sports betting in particular wrapped up with other types of risky behavior.”

Since the increased legalization of sports betting and sports-betting apps, sports bettors have gone from being 3% to 4% of callers to the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling’s helpline to 7% to 8% of callers, Hartwell said.

The country is seeing the largest and most rapid expansion of legalized gambling in its history with the growth of sports betting, Hartwell said, which means there’s a lot of concerns about advertising for it on television or announcers talking about their own bets during a game and how that could affect children.

“There are many, many studies that show that one of the risk factors for developing a gambling problem later on in life is gambling in childhood or adolescence,” he said. “And the more frequently you do gamble during that time, the more likely you are to develop a gambling problem later on in life. So that education aspect and getting that in very early is important.”

Knowing what they do now from the study about sports bettors’ tendency to binge drink more than others, Kraus said one of the questions researchers will seek to answer next is — if sports bettors are drinking a lot, are they betting in ways that are problematic?

“And that’s a question, I think, for our community,” he said. “People like having adult beverages and drinking and that’s fine. It’s just how do we make sure, though, people who are really drinking heavily are also not putting themselves at risk for risk-betting — getting … in trouble?”

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