As millions of Americans bet on this weekend’s , gambling experts are warning that  rules are fueling a wave of new addicts — and a ‘time bomb’ of bankruptcies, suicides and broken families in the coming years.   

A record 50.4 million Americans are predicted to bet up to $16 billion on Sunday’s clash between the Philadelphia Eagles and the City Chiefs, the American Gaming Association, says — a 61 percent jump on last year’s event. 

That alarms former addicts and researchers, who say sports betting firms often target college students as they lure new users to cell phone betting apps that then hook them on roulette, slots, and other compulsive games.

They told of a multibillion-dollar industry using data scientists to attract users with an array of well-timed freebies and rewards that sees them enter credit card numbers and start blowing hundreds of dollars in minutes.

One researcher warned of a ‘time bomb’ of gambling misery that will detonate in the not-too-distant future, even as lawmakers look the other way, loosen restrictions further and collect the windfall tax revenues.

‘Anything you stick on a phone that lets people drain their bank account in one evening is a bad idea,’ said Brian Hatch, 40, a recovered gambling addict based in Connecticut. ‘I think it’ll be the next opioid crisis.’

Sports betting adverts have become a dominant feature of games, including at this clash between the New Orleans Saints and the Washington Redskins in Landover, Maryland

A Rutgers study last year found the number of people posting about problematic gambling on Reddit grew five times faster following the introduction of legal sports betting in 2018

At 18, Hatch got sucked into blackjack in his native Michigan, but ended up hooked on slots in his 14-year gambling misadventure. He flunked college, burned through paychecks, loans, and his 401K, and ended up bankrupt and suicidal.

When he started out, the five-hour round trip to a tribal casino put the brakes on Hatch’s gambling. He now assists those hooked on new casino apps, and tells scary tales of users spinning digital wheels while in the restroom or even as they speed along freeways.

‘Having that app on a phone in your pocket is so insidious,’ he said. ‘I feel bad for those people who get addicted to it — it’s really hard to try to avoid your phone.’

A Supreme Court decision in 2018 opened the door to legalizing the billions of dollars that Americans wagered illegally on professional and amateur sports each year — often through illicit bookies or offshore gambling houses.

Since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was struck down, 36 states and Washington DC have legalized sports betting, typically for adults aged 21 and over, says the AGA, an industry body.

Even so, Americans still bet more than $510 billion on the black market each year, denying states tax revenues, the AGA says.

New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore stretches in front of a Draft Kings sports betting advert during a practice session in 2020. He now plays with the Indianapolis Colts

Since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was struck down, 36 states and Washington DC have legalized sports betting, typically for adults aged 21 and over

Another four states have changed their laws and are rolling out systems for punters to bet on everything from March Madness to the Super Bowl — two upcoming events that are poised to break gambling records again this year.

This year’s record-setting 50.4 million Super Bowl bettors surpasses the 31.4 million Americans who wagered some $7.61 billion on last year’s clash between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals.


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Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Missouri, Hawaii and South Carolina are either holding ballot initiatives or debating proposed legislation on whether to allow sports betting in the coming months.

The people like it. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll showed that two-thirds of Americans supported legal sports betting last year — up from 55 percent in 2017, before the Supreme Court decision.

Now, folks in states with legalized sports betting can try their luck with Caesars, WynnBET, BetRivers, DraftKings and other big sportsbooks that advertise prominently at games, on television and — controversially — on college campuses.

The market is booming. Casinos and mobile gaming apps rang up a record $54.93 billion in revenue during the first 11 months of 2022, a 13.5 percent increase against the same period the previous year, says the AGA. 

Betting firms are dangerously adept at rooting out new gamblers, especially young men, and getting them hooked with introductory ‘free bet’ offers, experts warned   

Casinos and mobile gaming apps rang up a record $54.93 billion in revenue during the first 11 months of 2022

A 2021 study by the National Council on Problem Gambling showed that, since the law changed in 2018, the number of gamblers who lied about their addiction or felt restless or irritable when they were not having a flutter rose sharply

Among the states that allow sports betting, planet88 23 permit online wagers.

Sports betting firms often also run online casinos, meaning newbies can sign up to wager $20 on a New York Yankees game but then get sucked into playing slots, roulette and blackjack in the same apps on their phones.

That’s the real problem, says Matt Zarb-Cousin, 32, a recovered addict and entrepreneur, who says betting firms are dangerously adept at rooting out new gamblers, especially young men, and getting them hooked.

McGill University’s Jeffrey Derevensky says America is betting on ‘an enormous social psychology experiment’

‘Some states that don’t even have casinos are legalizing sports betting, and people are accessing casino products for the first time on their smartphones or iPads, where it’s much easier to lose a lot of money, very quickly,’ said Zarb-Cousin.

Newcomers typically receive ‘free’ credit for their first sports bets, and later receive push notifications about winning complimentary spins on a digital roulette wheel or other breadcrumbs toward the in-app casino.

All the while, third party data warehouses build up profiles of clients, including their salary and demographic details, offering them bonuses and rewards that keep them opening up the app until their habit is formed, he added.

The thrill from old-fashioned gambling is still there: punters describe the rush of excitement, the adrenaline kick of a slot machine’s bonus round, the hope of an elusive big win, and the desire to recoup losses.

Joker playing card, Joker card, Cards

Starting young! A young fan holds up betting tickets at a sports event in Arcadia, California, at the end of 2022

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About the Author Myles Vitale

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