Home » Gambling addicts face tough test as Super Bowl 58 descends on Las Vegas and NFL cashes in

Gambling addicts face tough test as Super Bowl 58 descends on Las Vegas and NFL cashes in

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Lou Remillard was driving home from his restaurant in Las Vegas on Monday when he said the memories of past Super Bowls came flooding back.

Especially memories of gambling.

“One of my favorite days,” he said.

On Sunday, the Super Bowl will be played in Las Vegas for the first time. When the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers meet at Allegiant Stadium, however, Remillard said he probably will spend part of the game at a meeting for recovering gambling addicts like himself.

“This is a tough time,” said Remillard, 48, who told USA TODAY Sports his compulsive gambling led to divorce, debt and general destruction. “This is the time of year when I do focus more heavily on attendance at meetings and getting involved and going out and sharing the story.”

He is not alone.

The social costs of problem gambling are $7 billion a year, according to Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), which bills itself as the only non-profit organization that seeks to minimize the economic and social costs associated with gambling addiction.

As legalized sports betting has expanded, so has the temptation, according to Joshua Grubbs, a researcher of gambling behavior. Grubbs, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, said Super Bowl weekend is the highest volume sports betting span in the entire year.

“The combination of the hype around the game and the fusion of gambling into the game and the advertisements mean that it’s hard for folks in recovery to escape temptation,” he told USA TODAY Sports by email.

Following the money

In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that had effectively banned sports gambling in most states, with the notable exception being Nevada.

Less than six years later, 38 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports gambling. Operators in the regulated sports betting industry have generated $25 billion, according to the Legal Sports Report.

The NFL is cashing in, too.

According to a Washington Post report last year, the league now makes $132 million a year from gambling-related sponsorships.

In 2021, the league gave $6.2 million over three years to the NCPG – by far the largest donation made to the organization, according to Whyte.

More: NFL doubles down on ‘integrity’ with Super Bowl at the epicenter of gambling industry

More: By selling its soul, the NFL has enabled its own gambling problem

“The problem gambling field has always been underfunded,” Whyte said, “so the fact that $6.2 million is the biggest in the history is, it’s a little sad. But we’re grateful.”

When asked if the NFL gained influence over the NCPG, Whyte points out the NCPG has taken a neutral position on gambling since its inception in 1972. He said the NFL’s donation, part of a three-year grant from the league, has helped “plug some of the holes in the national safety net.’’

According to Whyte, that led to support for the 800-GAMBLER national helpline, providing grants to educate youth on gambling addiction and to support websites like responsibleplay.org, designed to help sports bettors avoid problem gambling.

At the invitation of the NFL, Whyte said, he’ll be at Super Bowl week for the first time in his 25 years as executive director of NCPG. He said he’ll do three days of interviews on Radio Row, a Super Bowl fixture which this year will house almost 200 broadcast stations. Prime real estate is carved out for FanDuel and DraftKings, the gambling companies that along with Caesars are the NFL’s official sports betting partners.

“It’s a teachable moment,” he said of his visit. “It’s an opportunity to reduce some of the shame and stigma around gambling addiction and normalize the conversation around the costs and benefits like we do with alcohol and drunk driving.”

What made professor say ‘whoa’

Timothy Fong acknowledged he bets as much as $200, which might seem unremarkable if Fong were not co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program. He said gambling can help people connect and enhance the quality of their lives.

“Just because you have gambling everywhere doesn’t mean everyone’s going to develop an addiction,” Fong, a clinical professor of psychiatry, told USA TODAY Sports. “We know that the vast majority of people who participate in any form of gambling, even sports betting, don’t develop a severe problem.”

Approximately 1 percent of the adult population in the United States suffers from a gambling disorder, according to Yale Medicine and other research. The bigger problem, according to Fong, is the trajectory of the data.

“We do see from year to year a slight increase in those numbers every year and that’s problematic,” he said.

Three years ago, Fong said, he started seeing “a lot more sports betting cases.”

Added Fong, “Things are going so fast, a lot of times patients are using things I’ve never heard of. I had a young kid the other day, he showed me a VPN, so that he can gamble on a legitimate website as if he were in Colorado, but we were in L.A. And I was like, ‘whoa.’ “

But other things rarely change: It’s on the Nevada bookmakers, which have lost money on only two Super Bowls since 1991, when the state’s gaming control board started tracking bets on the Super Bowl, according to Forbes.

NFL defends its efforts

It’s safe to say Arnie Wexler, the former executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, does not approve of the NFL holding the Super Bowl in Las Vegas.

“Those bastards,” said Wexler, who recalled the NFL and other pro sports leagues fighting the effort to legalize sports betting in New Jersey in the 1990s.

In fact, in 2012, the NFL challenged a sports betting statute in New Jersey. According to the New York Times, a lawyer for the NFL said in a deposition that the league opposed sports gambling because it would “negatively impact our long-term relationship with our fans, negatively impact the perception of our sport across the country.” Less than a decade later, the league signed partnerships with gambling companies and casinos.

On Monday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the media that “integrity of our game is critical’’ as legalized gambling spreads. “It’s our No. 1 objective,’’ he said.

Wexler said last Sunday he held a meeting in Florida for recovering gamblers. A 19-year-old sports bettor and one in his early 20s were there.

“We’re killing the youth of America,” Wexler said, “and nobody cares.”

Not true, says the NFL.

“Using our platform to promote responsible gambling is also a key focus and we are proud of the leadership position we have taken in this area across the sports industry,” the league said in a statement provided to USA TODAY Sports.

In fact, the NFL has touted its “responsible betting initiative.’’ The three major components cited by the league are its partnership with the NCPG, developing its own campaign that includes a commercial featuring Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner and messaging that the NCPG says has driven almost one million unique visitors to responsibleplay.org.

The league also has capped sports gambling advertisements to three for the Super Bowl – one before kickoff and two in-game.

One day at a time

Donations are voluntary at the meeting Remillard said he probably will attend on Super Bowl Sunday. One such meeting, sponsored by Gamblers Anonymous, will be in Room 116 at the Unity Club, about five miles from Allegiant Stadium.

There will be no sound of a cheering sellout crowd or, for that matter, sports gambling ads that will flood Las Vegas this week.

“It’s just taking our mind off of it, a physical relocation, a reset, a reboot, and we can have the strength to keep on for another 24 hours and keep it moving,” he said. “That’s why they say day at a time, my man.”

(Gannett Co, Inc., the parent company of USA TODAY, last February announced a multiyear strategic partnership with Gambling.com Group Limited.)