When Julian Katz made his last bet in 2013, the gambling world was much more complicated. In order to bet on a major game, Katz had to work around a law that at the time banned digital gambling in much of the country, including Pennsylvania, by going through a bookmaker that parked his funds in offshore bank accounts.
User-friendly live sports betting apps are everywhere these days. Katz swore he’d never download them — but that’s easier said than done.
In a sprawling ad for the gaming app (dubbed a “casino in your pocket” by gaming recovery experts), Katz says whenever he watches a Sixers or Eagles game, or most sports for that matter , he will fight against temptation.
“During the NFL playoffs, it was really bad for me,” Katz said. “March Madness, it’s really bad. The advertising and marketing that these online casinos do, they throw it in our faces.”
The 36-year-old Philadelphia native is not alone. A nearly $2 billion-a-year national sports betting app marketing blitz sparked by a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing online gaming and bringing it to Pennsylvania is sparking a crisis for a new generation of people with gambling problems Influenced by TV and Internet commercials, even billboards.
With the Eagles targeting the Super Bowl, the Philadelphia-area recovery plan is full of clients struggling to avoid betting apps, according to clinicians. Mostly young people, they said, were overwhelmed by ads that interrupted their games and kept popping up on their phones – often misleading “no sweat bets” that promised to lose money while encouraging more. In-app gambling.
“Back in 2013, gambling disorder was considered a full-fledged addiction, on the same level as heroin and opioid use,” said Harry Levant, who previously had problem gambling and founded the Ethical Gambling Reform Group and advocated for others. Provides licensed professional help to people who are struggling. “When you have uninterrupted instant access to an addictive product, people are hurt.”
The legalization of sports gambling has brought in a lot of advertising dollars, said Eric Webb, a senior counselor at the Karen Treatment Center who works with problem gamblers in Pennsylvania.
According to Webb, the national gaming industry spent about $15.5 million on advertising in 2019.
The industry will spend an estimated $1.8 billion on national gambling advertising by 2022.
“Anyone with a phone, a laptop, a computer — everybody is affected by it,” Webber said.
Katz, who built his career as a licensed professional for people with gambling problems, used the skills he learned in therapy to stay away from wagering apps and by registering with the Pennsylvania Self-Exclusion Gambling Registry, which barred him from signing up for them program.
Still, Katz said he struggled when football announcers talked about spreads and over/unders — popular betting outcomes — during breaks.
“Basically, what I do is tweak it as much as I can,” Katz said. “I know it’s there, I know I’m seeing it, but I just have to deal with it and accept it and move past it.”
For others like John, a Philadelphia native and South Jersey resident who asked to have his last name omitted because of his public-facing sales career, sports betting apps have accelerated a decade-long battle with addiction. , and make the ad harder to ignore.
John began to struggle with gambling in high school by placing larger and larger bets at nearby bookmakers. He fell into a dangerous cycle of maxing out his credit cards and accepting cash advances, which at one point cost him $40,000 in a month.
A year after John’s first son was born, sports betting became legal in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. John remembers the day he downloaded his first betting app, and the shock at how easy it was to use.
John was immediately drawn to the app’s user-friendly interface and seemingly endless betting options—for example, how many rebounds Joel Embiid would grab, or when Doc Rivers would call a timeout. Even more intriguing, the app was linked to his credit card, making him forget how much he had bet.
John then downloaded others, which caught his attention.
With a new family to care for, John realized his risky behavior had to end and sought therapy in the last year. Today, he hasn’t placed a bet in more than three months. The apps have been deleted from his phone.
But the pressure to gamble remains, as John is a die-hard Philadelphia fan who cheers on his team.
Recently, John watched a 76ers game on TV, and the anchors started discussing the odds during halftime. When he went to an Eagles game at Lincoln Financial Field with his wife and friends, he was invited into the FanDuel Lounge, a two-story all-inclusive stadium area sponsored by a gaming app. While there are no gambling kiosks in this area, members are encouraged to place wagers on their mobile phones.
“It’s not easy,” John said.
Among colleagues at the rehab center, the conversation turned to the number of gambling ads on television, even on the morning news, Weber said. This is unsurprising given the presence of major media companies in the industry.
ESPN, the cable network owned by The Walt Disney Co., struck a major deal with DraftKings last year aimed at attracting “young sports viewers under the age of 35.” Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.’s Fox Corp. has launched its own sports betting firm, FoxBet, and has a stake in FanDuel, while Sports Illustrated, among others, The media have licensed their names to sportsbooks.
The Inquirer has stepped in, partnering with sports media company Action Network and offering betting odds directly to the site.
Jennifer Levitt, a certified gambling advisor at the Philadelphia-based Livengrin Foundation, said about three-quarters of her clients bet on sports or online casinos during the pandemic, when the shutdown of brick-and-mortar casinos coincided with the industry’s quick start.
Leavitt was surprised to learn how much revenue Pennsylvania makes from sports betting taxes, but was flabbergasted by a recent New York Times story about the industry’s advertising efforts. Caesar’s Sportsbook has signed multimillion-dollar deals with several colleges to advertise in their gyms and campus sanctuaries frequented by men in their early 20s, one of the most prone to gambling addiction.
“Once upon a time, you could see cigarette ads on TV, in magazines and in newspapers, and they regulated it because they found out it was a well-known addiction,” Leavitt said. “but [betting] Companies won’t come out and say it because they don’t want people to stop gambling. “
With gambling companies showing no signs of slowing spending, advocates hope lawmakers will address the industry’s advertising blitz.
In Massachusetts, where Levant is working on a Ph.D. at Northeastern University, the Philadelphia-based consultant recently helped draft legislation to include sports betting as a form of deceptive advertising — especially when the ad mentions “no sweat.” and risk-free betting.
These promotions entice gamblers to sign up by promising to refund them if they lose money. But in practice, Levant said, users don’t see the cash back. Instead, they earn in-app credits to keep gambling.
“If a gambler bets in the first place, he has a problem,” Levante said.
If the legislation passes, gamblers will be able to take legal action against companies that run these promotions, Levant said.
Still, Levant sees federal intervention as one of the most likely ways states like Pennsylvania can curb deceptive advertising. There are few state-level restrictions, except that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board requires ads to include a toll-free number for addiction treatment.
Meanwhile, gambling ads continue to infiltrate the daily lives of recovering gamblers.
“Funny, huh?” John said in a message, along with a screenshot from his phone. He uses the app to track his time off from gambling. A sign reads “90 days”. Above it, an ad for a betting app offering $1,000 in easy bets.