The NFL’s selection of Las Vegas to host this year’s Super Bowl is shining a spotlight on the explosion of legal sports betting, especially on mobile apps.
New York Rep. Paul Tonko worries the ease of access the apps provide is opening the floodgates to addiction – particularly among young people – and says lawmakers should step in.
“We need to avoid a potential crisis here,” the Albany-area Democrat said.
The sites have taken off in recent years, following a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for states to legalize sports gambling.
Tonko says the apps allow gamblers to bet on more than just the result of a particular match.
“It's not just whether team A beats team B in the Super Bowl, but it's every inch of the game, every play. Will it be a run? Will it be a pass? How many yards: under 10, over 10?” he said.
In New York state, mobile sports betting went live in 2022.
Data compiled by the state Comptroller’s Office shows that during the 2022-2023 budget year, the state collected roughly $727.4 million in taxes from mobile sports betting.
But, during 2022, the state also saw a 26% increase in problem gambling-related calls to the Office of Addiction Services and Supports.
“Yes, those are dollars into the state,” Tonko said. “But how many dollars are going to be required of these states to address yet another illness of addiction?”
The congressman wants lawmakers to respond, and has introduced legislation to prohibit sportsbooks ads on TV, radio and the internet. The bill is modeled on the landmark 1970 law that restricted ads for cigarettes.
“The most vulnerable by category in our society are those preyed upon by this advertising frenzy,” he said.
The American Gaming Association (AGA), a trade organization for the gambling industry, opposes the proposed ad restrictions, arguing they would violate free speech. In a statement, Chris Cylke, a senior vice president of the AGA, said that “any such effort only serves to reduce awareness for legal options to the benefit of illegal, offshore operators and the detriment of consumers and communities.”
“Congress should instead focus its attention on combatting the predatory and pervasive offshore illegal market that offers no responsible gaming measures, age verification or problem gambling resources,” he said.
The AGA last year updated its marketing standards to ban the use of "risk free" language in ads and improve protections for college-aged individuals.
So far, Tonko’s bill faces steep odds. It only has one cosponsor. However, Tonko says he is convinced that as the issue gets more of a public airing, his colleagues will begin to see the need to act.
Separately, last month, Tonko sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying that he has learned of Americans “experiencing difficulties when seeking treatment for gambling addiction.”
He urged the agency to “clarify that HHS recognizing gambling disorder is a mental health and substance use disorder, and as such, is required to be covered as an essential health benefit.”
An HHS spokesperson confirmed the agency had received the letter and will respond directly to Tonko.