In just the last year, eight states have legalized online sports betting, bringing the total number of states that legalized the activity to 33, with three more states set to open their operations in 2023.
In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that effectively banned commercial sports betting in most states, which paved the way for the meteoric rise in the activity since.
According to the American Gaming Association, 50.4 million Americans bet on the Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles in 2023. Overall, they wagered $16 billion compared to $7.6 billion during 2022’s Super Bowl.
In the first 10 months of 2022, $73 billion was legally wagered on sports according to the group, a 70% increase year over year. In 2022, the legal wagering led to $5.7 billion in revenue for casinos, $1.3 billion in tax money for the federal government, and some issues for those who partake.
“[Sports betting] is kind of like a Molotov cocktail disguised as a whiskey sour,” said Steve Maltepas, a professional sports bettor who puts his picks online for subscribers who pay monthly for them. “It looks fun, it looks engaging, it looks great. But I’ve seen some that are a little scary. I’ve got more and more people every week to borrow money that never have before.”
Maltepas is what is known as a handicapper, where he spends more than 40 hours a week researching different sporting event matchups so he can identify an edge over casinos that put out bets. He then sells those picks to monthly subscribers who pay roughly $3 a day to access them.
“You know, we spend eight to 16 hours a day depending on the season running the analytics, the metrics, the gambling angles,” he said. “[We] look at all the injuries, read every article we can because you never know when one paragraph will set something off in your head and you’ll see something. You’ll see some value [in a particular bet].”
Maltepas has been betting for more than 30 years, much of it was illegal before the Supreme Court ruling in 2018, but the ruling has allowed his business to flourish, but behind the glitz and the glamour of the bright casino lights, there is a dark side to the venture.
Yale Medicine estimates gambling addictions affect 1% of the adult population and 2% to 7% of youths, but it is difficult to assess since many who partake do not recognize their actions as problematic.
“[Gambling addiction] is no different than really any other rewarding behavior that we have. You know, alcohol, tobacco, lobster, Doritos. You know, it just gets people feeling good,” said Timothy Fong, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and the co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program.
Fong says where sports betting differs from other types of gambling is the illusion of control. Many times, the people betting are fans of the sport who think they know more than the average person and therefore have an edge. Many times, it is not the case as that illusion of control has led more people to bet on parlays, where multiple outcomes need to occur just to win one bet.
It is far riskier than betting a single outcome but pays out a much larger profit if it hits due to the decrease in probability.
“There’s zero skill in [betting parlays],” said Fong. “This is just picking numbers out of a hat. That’s all it is and anyone who wants to counter and tell me otherwise is completely full of BS, which is different than traditional handicapping where I’m taking one bet on one outcome and I’m comparing it to historical numbers.”
It is why professionals like Maltepas stay away from betting parlays, instead wagering hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on single outcomes. Even then, he is winning 54% to 57% of his bets, but with the amount he wagers each year, it has allowed him to make a sizeable profit as more people flock to do the same.