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Sports betting scandals and addiction concerns amid industry growth

As the sports betting industry continues to reach new levels of revenue, an increasing number of professional athletes have been caught up in gambling scandals. This is accompanied by an increase in calls and messages to gambling addiction helplines. Major League Baseball (MLB) recently banned San Diego Padres outfielder Tucupita Marcano and Toronto Raptors outfielder Jontay Porter for betting on games, with four other players receiving one-year suspensions. These incidents are part of a growing trend following the 2018 legalization of sports betting in the US.

Despite the leagues' historical opposition, betting has become deeply embedded in American sports culture. MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred emphasized that the privilege to play comes with the responsibility to refrain from certain behaviors, including betting on games.

At the same time, there has been a significant increase in people suffering from mental health problems related to sports betting. Gambling hotlines have reported a massive increase in traffic over the past few years. The National Problem Gambling Helpline has seen an 800% increase in texts and chats since 2018, with call volume up almost 80%. State helplines have also seen similar increases following the legalization of sports gambling.

The annual national social cost of problem gambling, including job losses and gambling-related criminal justice, is estimated to be about $14 billion. Approximately 2.5 million adults in the US meet the criteria for a serious gambling problem each year.

Despite these worrying numbers, the sports betting industry continues to thrive. Sports betting revenue grew from $7.6 billion in 2022 to $11 billion in 2023. The first quarter of this year alone brought in $3.33 billion, representing a 22% year-over-year increase.

The legalization of sports betting has led to an increase in advertising for sports betting companies, with leagues, franchises and networks partnering with betting companies. However, this explosive growth has raised concerns about gambling and addiction. In response, legislation has been introduced to use federal funding to treat and study problem gambling.

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