Monday, June 12, 2023

Wanna Bet?


    Las Vegas...Sin recognized as the gambling capital of the world. That's kind of fitting when you see the city's hockey team about to win the Stanley Cup at a time when a total bombardment of betting ads during games is annoying the heck out of real NHL fans.
    A few weeks ago, Karl Subban, school principal, author and father of three pro hockey players, publicly called for a ban on betting ads shown during NHL games. He's become a voice for the national advocacy group, "Ban Ads for Gambling."
    "They catch the attention of young people," Subban said. "It's a powerful way of marketing to them, which we know can have a harmful effect on young people realizing their potential and really reaching their dreams. So we need to have conversations about some of the things that are getting in the way. Either act today or pay dearly tomorrow."
    The problem is, many sports fans...many of them young...are already paying dearly.
    "The heavy promotion (of ads) means that a lot of more people are betting on sports now," says Nigel Turner, a researcher at the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. "It used to be a fairly small percentage of the total clinical mix of problem gambling. In the past year, online gambling has gone from being a pretty minor percentage of the people who call in the helpline to being the number one reason that people are calling the helpline prior to like 2-3 years ago."
    "We are creating a generation of people who are thinking of gambling as a safe activity and there are people who are looking up to the celebrities promoting gambling as a as a way of making money. But it's not a way of making money, it's a way of entertaining yourself losing money," Turner says.

                       Nigel Turner: Canadian Centre of Addiction and Mental Health

    Turner and his colleagues see a direct correlation between the number of people who need help escaping from online gambling and the proliferation of sports betting commercials.
    "It's too soon to tell whether this is going to exceed prior problem levels of gambling. I am monitoring the situation," he says. "There's usually a lag between when when gambling becomes available and when people show up in treatment, partly because most people don't actually seek treatment and they try to solve their problem on their own. They go bankrupt on their own. So there's there's usually a lag. But we have seen a spike in calls related to online gambling sooner than we expected."
    As Turner points out, by the time people look for help it's often too late and they're already in a serious financial hole. His team is particularly concerned about the celebrity endorsers...Wayne Gretzky, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid among them...who are actually influencing the brain development of young fans.

    "Well, young people are considered to be particularly vulnerable to gambling and and addictions in general because part of being an adolescent is being more impulsive and, particularly focusing on males, they are more impulsive by nature, and gambling appeals to the impulsive nature of youth," Turner explains. 
    "And when you establish a gambling problem your brain gets kind of hooked into a sequence of expectations. So if somebody who's young starts gambling too much, they are changing the way their brain functions and their brain activity is telling them to keep gambling. And that's a concern to us that we're creating a generation of people who are going to be gambling more."
    Turner and Subban aren't alone in expressing their concern for the health of young people who may be most vulnerable to gambling ads. This week, the chief of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, Kelly LaRocca, published an open letter to Gretzky, McDavid and Matthews, asking them to stop promoting gambling. She says she sees a direct link to the ads and the interest of kids in betting.
    "I hope that they stand down from advertising iGaming," LaRocca said. "Our youth look up to them. They're being told that it's okay to just pick up and gamble whenever you feel like it."
    The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which regulates gambling in the province, is now contemplating a ban on "the use of athletes as well as celebrities that can reasonably be expected to appeal to children and youth from internet gambling, advertising and marketing." It may be "contemplating" a ban, but there isn't one so far. And nobody's talking about stopping the ads...just stopping the celebrity promotion.
     For adult fans, the betting ads are annoying. For people with addictions, they're tempting. And for adolescents, they're dangerous, according to the experts.

    However in a league devoted to finding new sources of revenue, those gambling ads are worth a lot of money. They're inserted into the games themselves, feature in intermission analysis segments and are plastered all over the boards and the ice. The risk to vulnerable youth doesn't seem to trump the league's desire to squeeze out every dollar possible, regardless of the source.
    It's fitting, then, that the team from the Gambling Capital of the World, which was handed a sweetheart expansion draft that made it able to compete immediately, is poised to take home the hardware. If the league wants to make money, its expansion teams need to win right away in order to keep the new fans' cash flowing. Commissioner Gary Bettman has created the perfect circumstances for that to happen.
    In the meantime, the Vegas Golden Knights have become the poster child for the new, high-stakes NHL. They'll probably be Stanley Cup Champions five years into their existence. Young hockey fans will and all...and soak up the message that NHL hockey is more than just sport. It's a get-rich-quick scheme. You can bet on it.