Responsible sports betting is possible, but gamblers should proceed with caution.
Sports gambling has taken the country by storm since the federal government lifted its ban on single-game betting in 2021. While the decision has opened sports betting up to regulation, it has also made it much more accessible, potentially increasing addiction risk.
A Statistics Canada study examining the gambling habits of Canadians aged 15 and older found men, low-income individuals, and Indigenous people as being the demographics most vulnerable to developing gambling addictions.
The study acknowledges the need for further research and new education, prevention, and treatment strategies to accommodate industry changes following the explosion of sports betting and online gambling in general.
It’s likely no coincidence online sports betting exploded during the pandemic and subsequent recession. Gambling isn’t the only industry that saw opportunistic companies capitalize on lockdown boredom and a recession-fed desire for easy money.
As addictions go, gambling is as serious—and detrimental—as alcoholism, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. The effect of problematic gambling is often minimized compared to substance misuse, but this perception can lead to dangerous nonchalance.
With the rise of accessible gambling opportunities in Canada, young people need access to information and resources to help them make healthy choices. Advertising for sports betting should be strictly regulated until the education system can catch up—if allowed at all.
Current marketing strategies are aggressive and target mostly young people, many of whom are ill-equipped to navigate misleading deals like ‘risk free’ bets where a losing wager is refunded only as betting credit for use within the app or site.
Still, many people have positive sports betting experiences.
For those who can self-regulate and stick to a gambling budget, sports betting is harmless. However, if you’re concerned about your ability to monitor your spending or addiction runs in the family, it may be wise to reconsider.
Unfortunately, sports betting companies aren’t likely to know or care if users develop gambling addictions unless the problem were to become so widespread as to prompt government intervention. It’s up to individuals to look out for problem gambling and advocate for addiction education and therapy funding.
From an economic perspective, sports betting companies and sports networks have a symbiotic relationship. Having fans bet on single games increases viewership and leads to higher ratings, but buzz around a milestone or new record should never be more about money than athletic achievement.
If gambling becomes inherent to sports culture, our experience of sport could be undermined by an inability to appreciate a game without personal financial stakes. Sports are about celebrating human excellence and bringing communities together. We shouldn’t lose sight of these ideals in the pursuit of a quick buck.
With the right education and a clear separation between enjoying sports and betting on them, gambling can be enjoyed safely. Maintaining a healthy relationship with sports betting—like any form of gambling—takes more than good intentions, though.
Play responsibly before it’s game over.
—Journal Editorial Board
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