Risky Business: A High Stakes Gambling Addiction

A game is not just a game when $50 is on the line.

Sam Bush / 12.1.21

In case you were wondering, orange is the heavy favorite for the color of Gatorade in this year’s Super Bowl (+140). While you’re at it, there are six different ways you can bet on the opening coin toss. These are just two of a bottomless list of prop bets that over 23 million Americans will gamble to a total of $4 billion this year. 

If you watch sports, there’s a good chance you’ve recently been inundated with ads for betting. You may also notice that analysts are making more and more comments about the over/under spread of a particular game or even more specifics like the odds of Tom Brady’s completion percentage. Whereas a broadcaster even mentioning gambling would have been forbidden only a few years ago, announcers now have endorsement deals with betting sites. 

The most practical reasoning for the deluge of gambling ads is that 21 states have recently opened the door to online sports betting. Since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was struck down in 2018, sports-betting revenues have grown over 300 percent with total gambling revenues surpassing $44 billion in 2021. That’s roughly the same size as the movie, book and music industries combined

In case the sports betting world is completely foreign to you, Stephen Marche provides a helpful look at the rapidly burgeoning world of gambling in America in his latest Atlantic article, “America’s Gambling Addiction is Metastasizing.”

Marche articulates the gambling phenomenon on both a macro level and a personal one. On a systematic front, the government used to enforce bans on what was widely viewed as indecent activity — alcohol, pornography, sex work, drugs, gambling — but history shows that such restrictions often backfire. From the Puritans to prohibition, the law increases the trespass. As the concept of public morality has fallen by the wayside, moral strictures on behavior have largely been loosened. We are now, quite literally, left to our own devices.

On an individual level, one had to physically go to a casino to place a bet — an inconvenience, to be sure. Now all you need is a smart phone and trusted sites like https://www.usgamblingsites.com/casinos/. Amid this modern gold rush, both sides of the political aisle have something to gain: the left has more freedom in their private lives and the right has more financial independence. According to Marche, however, the real winner in this scenario is greed. As they say, the house always wins.

I, for one, have been blissfully ignorant of gambling’s appeal. Mostly to a fault, I grip much too tightly to my money to assume any kind of financial risk and gambling is no exception. But I’m becoming more and more the minority. In the age of bitcoin and NFTs, money seems less like a concrete reality and more like a plaything. Plus, each new addition to the crypto currency market is potentially the Next Big Thing that only a fool would miss out on. I used to kick myself for not being one of Apple’s earliest investors, until I recently learned that it first went public five years before I was born. Still, if only!

Betting seems to be pitched as a way to make the game more interesting. To make life more interesting, adding a dash of risk to the mundane. What was once a spectator sport is now suddenly an investment on which you could make a hefty profit. Then again, the issue isn’t that people are necessarily seeking to get rich, but that gambling is a way to escape the boredom of the everyday. The thrill of gambling is that you have something to gain or lose. A game is not just a game when $50 is on the line. It’s a business opportunity and a tightrope walk. 

Gambling is really an extension of the attention economy. So much information is vying for our attention these days that we are often multitasking with multiple screens. It feels nearly impossible to do one thing at a time anymore, be it driving a car or watching a movie. We are no longer satisfied with the mundane until the dopamine hits. 

Gambling companies aren’t selling easy money, after all. They’re selling an augmentation to reality itself. In that sense, social media uses the same tactics as casinos. They’re not selling the exchange of ideas and interactive community so much as the thrill and enchantment of an alternative existence. Instead of putting money down we exchange time. We refresh the browser over and over again to see if our tweet paid off. The satisfaction lasts for a few moments before we’re ready to click again.

The Anglican cleric Charles Colton once said, “Ennui has made more gamblers than avarice, more drunkards than thirst, and perhaps as many suicides as despair.” We are not only compelled toward a more enchanting reality but out of our dim, gray one. Anywhere but here, we say. But the more we try to speed life up, the more it seems to drag. 

Are we really that bored? Is life that mundane? Boredom (or at least a state of inactivity) seems to be built into life itself when God puts His feet up on the seventh day. It might not be the state we are called to perpetually live in, but it certainly has its time and place. Watching a football game on a Sunday afternoon, for instance.

Searching for excitement, we miss out on what’s real. Perhaps we aren’t meant to live on an IV drip of adrenaline. Perhaps we weren’t meant to be drugged out on the latest touchdown pass, but to pause and notice our lives and the care of God amid it all. This God revealed his love in a death that was all but ignored by the nearby Roman soldiers. The soldiers, you see, did not hear his final breath of forgiveness or pause to wonder who this supposed king might really be. They were too busy gambling over his blood-stained clothes.

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One response to “Risky Business: A High Stakes Gambling Addiction”

  1. […] it went beyond financial products and speculative crypto investing. Sports betting continues to be a nationwide phenomenon, even though it isn’t yet legal in 20 of the 50 states. […]

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