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Episode 139: From gladiators to apps

As online sports betting continues to rise, Minnesota finds itself amidst debates both for and against its legalization.

MAYA ATHERLY-LARSEN: Hi, I’m Maya Atherly-Larsen. You’re listening to In The Know, a podcast dedicated to the University of Minnesota. 

According to the NFL website, an estimated 200 million people watched the Super Bowl last year and that number is only expected to increase this year. This is the biggest American sporting event of the year which also means that more people than ever will be participating in sports betting. 

Sports betting is pretty self-explanatory, you place bets on who wins or loses for a given sports game, but the way people have participated in it has changed quite a bit over the years. Sports betting started in the ancient times with citizens of the Roman Empire betting on gladiator games, and in ancient Greece, during the olympics. In the 18th century, horse gambling began to take off in the UK and eventually spread to other countries, like the U.S.

The creation of the American Stud Book in 1868 made sports betting in America more organized. Over time, fans began betting on all kinds of sports, usually through bookmakers and casinos. Up until 2018, sports betting was illegal in every state except Nevada, says Susan Sheridan Tucker, the executive director of the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling when explaining the history of legal gambling in the U.S.

SUSAN SHERIDAN TUCKER: The U. S. Supreme Court overturned the ban which opened the opportunities for every state to decide whether they wanted to make sports betting legal or not. So, since 2018 until today, we have 38 states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized sports betting which means that in most cases, you can bet online.

ATHERLY-LARSEN: With the birth of the internet, online sports betting saw a boom in popularity due to its overwhelming convenience. In 2021, approximately 20% of the user base on platforms such as DraftKings and FanDuel consisted of women, while men comprised the remaining 80%. Sheridan Tucker notes that among this demographic, young men aged 18 to 35 are showing a notable increase in addiction to sports betting.

Today, the most popular way to participate in sports betting is through various apps like FanDuel and Draftkings. With Gen Z being the most tech-savvy, sports betting on apps is a big success with younger students at the U. There are many different features on these sports betting apps. Computer engineering senior Tyler Yantis explains how it works on the app, Prize Picks.

TYLER YANTIS: You pick a player’s line is what they’re called. So let’s say for basketball, Anthony Edwards is supposed to score 20 points. You pick the over, the under, and you just end up making parlays based off of that.

And the other type that I do occasionally use is called FanDuel. There’s another one called DraftKings. Those, you make mock up, like, fantasy football lineups, pick different players and whoever has the best performance wins. 

ATHERLY-LARSEN: With modern day sports betting, people are betting on way more than just outcomes. Something that was surprising to me were the other smaller bets that are a little more unusual. 

SHERIDAN TUCKER: People are doing micro transactions, micro bets, in play bets. So during the game, they can bet on how long will it take the pitcher to pitch the ball? What color is the Gatorade that’s going to be dumped on the coach?

You know, things that are happening within the game, but are not necessarily directly related to the game. So it makes it much more easy to engage in betting and our concern is that people are doing way more than they’re really equipped to do. They may be spending way more money placing many more bets than what they really intended to do at the outset.

ATHERLY-LARSEN: These apps can be an exciting addition when watching a game with friends. Marketing senior Trevan Edwards discusses the social aspect which has a valuable role surrounding the culture for these apps.

TREVAN EDWARDS: A lot of times my roommates and I, we kind of, we’ll like, go in on the same bet together, so we could kind of cheer for the same things. Or in a case you can kind of use it in that same kind of camaraderie sense, but just going against someone else. So, you know, I think he’s gonna have more than 100 yards than my buddy does, and so we kind of have a little back and forth throughout the entire watching experience.

ATHERLY-LARSEN: Sports betting apps can be a fun time, no doubt, but the increased accessibility of gambling has brought up concerns. While sports betting is not yet legal in Minnesota, there are many dangerous online scams as Sheridan Tucker explains.

SHERIDAN TUCKER: In Minnesota, sports betting is not yet legal and so people who are betting on online using apps are being directed to offshore sites, which are unregulated, highly predatory. And some of your listeners may be engaging in those activities and they may be finding that when they want to cash out, they can’t, or they’re waiting days, uh, before they get their money because it’s unregulated, it’s the Wild West. 

ATHERLY-LARSEN: Additionally, with the convenience of these apps, there has been concern about increased problem gambling, especially among minors.

SHERIDAN TUCKER: We know that the younger somebody is exposed to gambling, the greater likelihood they will have a problem with gambling as they get older. Sports bettors have a 13 times higher rate of gambling addiction than other kinds of bettors. So, it really is designed the way that it is, electronically, to keep you playing.

YANTIS: I have a bunch of friends who like to think they know sports. They don’t watch enough of it, so they try and sports bet. And I know, I want to say three to four who have all lost, I don’t know if I’d say significant. I don’t know exactly how much, but they have all been losing on their bets. I had one actually who if he would have bet the exact opposite on his parlays, he would have ended up winning on every single line.   

ATHERLY-LARSEN: Even with these concerns, many see the economic potential of sports betting. 38 States have completely legalized sports betting, and a few Minnesota politicians are hoping to do the same. State Senator Jeremy Miller has proposed a bill to legalize sports betting, hoping to get it passed once the upcoming session starts. A big concern Miller has is that, “Minnesota continues to miss out on what is a $100 billion industry.” 

Some key elements of this proposal include licensing opportunities for tribal nations to provide retail and mobile sports betting, and a 15% tax rate on sports betting revenue. In response to the concern about legalizing sports betting, Miller’s bill also includes tax proceeds going to local charities, providing problem gambling resources, supporting youth sports and facilitating athlete education programs. Senior at the Carlson school of Management, Jack Falstead, recounts what he has seen in his own group of friends.

JACK FALSTEAD: I started more recently, within the last year because my roommates and some of my friends have done it. But, I usually don’t gamble a lot, only up to 10 to 20 dollars. I’ve seen friends like, delete the app and quit because they’ve lost all their money, and they’ve already deposited too much. And they don’t want to like, get sucked back into the loophole. I’ve seen people rage at the TV or express deep emotion. 

ATHERLY-LARSEN: There are many sides to the sports betting debate, all valid, but helping those struggling will always be the priority. If you or someone you know is wrestling with a gambling addiction, there are resources available to help. 

SHERIDAN TUCKER: So we want everybody to know that, uh, gambling treatment is free in Minnesota. And if they call 1-800-333-4673, that’s the problem gambling helpline. They can receive a referral to an approved provider. We as an organization offer a free year subscription to a gambling blocking tool called Gamban, and it blocks literally tens of thousands of gambling apps, offshore and even FanDuels and DraftKings, if it were available in Minnesota. So they want to preempt, be prepared.

We’re happy to give out that app to any Minnesota resident. There’s also a free app called BetBlocker and it doesn’t block as many as Gamban, but you know, it’s another tool that people can put on all their devices. And we recommend that if you’re going to use an app like this to upload it to all your devices, phones, computers, if you have children, their computers, you know, anywhere that you might have access to using an electronic device.

ATHERLY-LARSEN:  Super Bowl Sunday is an exciting event for sports fans in America, but it’s easy to get caught up in the festivities. So remember, always be thoughtful and responsible when engaging in gambling. 

YANTIS: Don’t get into it. 


YANTIS: Don’t get into it. 

ATHERLY-LARSEN: Don’t get into it, okay? Yeah. Alright, I won’t.

This episode was written by Maya Atherly-Larsen and produced by Kaylie Sirovy. As always, we appreciate you listening in and feel free to leave us an email at [email protected] with questions or concerns. I’m Maya, and this is In The Know.

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  • Wendy Eilers
    Feb 21, 2024 at 7:17 pm

    Great podcast! Sports betting, becoming addicted – scary stuff.