Has the US learned nothing from the UK’s gambling problems?

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Greg Weber started playing at 13, playing poker with his friends for small stakes after school. Weber, now 32 and from New Jersey, grew up in the wake of the Moneymaker Effect – a boom in interest in poker was sparked when 27-year-old Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker , won the 2003 World Series of Poker. , winning $2.5 million. Weber was always obsessed with sports, especially basketball, and poker appealed to his competitive instincts; he also performed weekly on ESPN. So, even though it was Weber’s love for the sport that drove him to play, he didn’t play the sport right away – that came later, at age 18. His habit started small, with bets of $5 or $10. In college, his friend put him in touch with a bookmaker, and his bets increased.

Before 2018, he explains, it was difficult to bet regularly. The offshore account websites he used were unreliable. He often worried that he would not receive his winnings, with declined credit cards or lost ether bets. His bookmaker set up an online platform where he could place bets, and at the end of each week they settled. “But before 2018, that was pretty much the only way I could gamble and place sports bets,” he says.

Then, in May of that year, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 federal law which had banned states from licensing sports betting. New Jersey sports betting legalized the same year, and as companies competed for customers, gambling advertisements flooded the state – on billboards, radio and television. Weber recalls a blitz of promotional emails for “risk-free bets.” New applications have appeared on smartphones. He marveled at the ease of this new technology: he could bet with just a few clicks of his thumb, anywhere and anytime. Deposits and withdrawals were equally smooth and instantaneous. He no longer had to wait weeks for money in an offshore account, or meet with a bookmaker to settle his bets; the money was just there, in his bank account. Time and space were no longer obstacles.

There was now a wide range of new bets to place. Foreign sites had offered rudimentary options, but nothing like it. He could always find something to bet on, since he could also bet in the game: the next quarter of a football game, the next pitch of a baseball game. It seemed limitless. Weber notes that, during this time, he became less interested in skill-requiring bets—those where his love and knowledge of the sport might give him a better chance than the average person—and more concerned with speed. “I tended to like bets that I could win or lose instantly, the faster the better, especially when I was losing and had to catch up,” he explains. He was playing games that he hadn’t been interested in before, like roulette and blackjack. The apps and sites he visited were affiliated with casinos, which appealed to him. His favorite bet towards the end of this period was to guess whether a baseball team would score in the first inning of a game; it was all over in 10-15 minutes.

Over the next two years, things went downhill. Although Weber admits that his gambling problems have slowly accumulated since his first game of poker, after 2018 things have definitely escalated. Weber has been a full-time firefighter for nine years, and when he was losing he would always have bet on the 11 p.m. or midnight games, and would therefore stay up until 2 or 3 a.m., seeing how his bet turned out. unrolled. . “It’s not good for someone who works 24 hours a day at the fire station,” he said. For several years, he spent every moment thinking about gambling or trying to find money to play sports or play poker. He couldn’t put his phone down; it was a 24-hour obsession. “My whole life has been a bit hectic,” he says. By early 2020, Weber had exhausted his sources of cash. He couldn’t take out a loan or apply for another credit card; he had no more options.

Americans have always found ways to bet on sportsboth legally and illegally – whether through trips to Nevada, where sports betting has thrived for decades, or, like Weber, via offshore accounts or bar bookmakers. “The introduction of regulated sports betting in the United States should not be confused with the introduction of sports betting,” says Chris Grove, CEO of American Affiliate, a sports betting investment portfolio. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, an investigation by the National Problem Gambling Council found that about 15 percent of Americans say they bet fairly frequently on sports. thirty one states allow now sports betting. In turn, Americans, like Weber, placed an abundance of bets. The latest NCPG investigation found the number of betting Americans had jumped to 25 percent. (This is partly the result of black market regulation, says NCPG director Keith Whyte, and partly the result of new bettors entering the fray.)

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