Betting has been around for hundreds of years, but modern-day gambling is far from what it once was. While in theory, online gambling is illegal for those under 21, such restrictions are easy to bypass. As a result, online gambling—particularly sports betting—has become an incredibly popular activity among students at M-A.
“It’s exhilarating,” an anonymous student described. “It makes watching sports a lot more fun.”
Beyond M-A, this trend is widespread, as NFL viewership has increased every year since the broader legalization of sports betting in 2017.
Some students see no harm in the bets. Another anonymous student said, “If done responsibly and in moderation, sports gambling is not harmful to our community.”
However, many sports gambling apps create a false illusion of winning through promotions such as Taco Tuesdays and free squares, in which certain lines—the numbers that are set for select players in a given game—are reduced to encourage user interaction. For example, an NBA player may have a line of 19.5 points which users will then bet on whether they think this player will get more or less.
Certain sports player props (another term for lines) are put on sale, making them more likely to hit. However, these must be paired with normal lines, which are statistically designed to ensure that enough people will lose money for the app to turn a considerable profit.
As online sports gambling becomes more popular, the accessibility of such gambling apps poses additional problems. Online apps allow people to gamble whenever and wherever they want with nearly unlimited options, which has increased gambling addictions. In the U.S. alone, 5.7 million people reported having a gambling addiction in a nationwide survey conducted in 2020 by the National Association of Administrators for Disordered Gambling Services.
A third anonymous student shared, “What’s hard is setting limits for yourself. These companies are really good at having you lose track of how much money you’ve put in, or make you feel like you’re winning or are missing out on winning when you’re not.” Apps like PrizePicks plaster users’ screens with how much they have won throughout their time on the app, but much of this money gets reinvested into PrizePicks as it is difficult to withdraw winnings. Therefore, these numbers give people a false perception of how much profit they have made.
Gambling apps also encourage users to share the platform by providing monetary incentives if people get their friend to sign up. “It’s kind of infectious,” said the first anonymous student. “You see one of your friends doing it and you say, ‘Hey that looks fun,’ and want to try. And once you start, it’s hard to stop.”
Despite this influx, sports betting in California remains illegal not only for minors, but for all ages. One can only imagine how much the industry will grow if it becomes legal.