Cracks are showing a year after Arizona legalized sports gambling

A FanDuel advertisement is seen as the New Orleans Saints take the field against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on November 15, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – In 1989, baseball fans were heartbroken when commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti expelled Pete Rose from the game for his gambling addiction. Rose’s bookie said an average bettor would lose around 5% of their invested money weekly. Fans knew Rose was anything but average.

“He lost over what you would expect to lose,” said Ronald Peters, Rose’s ex-bookie in a 1989 interview. “[In] other words, he was worse than the average.”

The man who popularized the head-first slide and personified hustle didn’t receive forgiveness for his pathological gambling. Vance Arnold, a 26-year-old recovering gambler from Scottsdale, Arizona, believes he won’t either.

“There’s a lot of different types of people in the world,” Arnold said, recalling his ex-girlfriend’s response to his repeated lying. “[There’s] people who put up with sh–, there’s people who don’t. She’s the one who won’t.”

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When Arizona legalized online betting at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, convenience gambling progressively seized his life. He’d lie about quitting, his finances and what he could provide to his ex.

“When you’re a compulsive gambler it just slowly deteriorates,” Arnold said, recalling his fall. “My savings started going down. So I started using my credit card and then before you know it, June of last year I was $30,000 in debt and had zero dollars to my name.”

Arnold lost more than money. Like Rose, he lost forgiveness.

“She’d rather get out now than wait 10 years,” he said about his ex’s apprehension around starting a family with his addiction and lying.

His story is all too familiar for people and their loved ones affected by gambling in the state.

Nearly a year after lawmakers in Arizona legalized sports gambling, questions remain on the impact it will have on the public due to a lack of state oversight.

Findings show at least $12 million in revenue generated for the state, with most profits proffered to out-of-state sportsbooks. Additionally, reports show young men and Latino men may be disproportionately affected by out-of-state profiteering, revealing oversight concerns for those adversely impacted.

Communities affected

In January, Arizona State University’s Global Sport Institute studied the affect of wagering on events.

The research found older individuals held more traditional unenthusiastic attitudes about gambling. However, high-income earners and men 18-44 had more sympathetic opinions of event wagering.

Findings also showed younger men and Latino males were more open to event wagering. Other data suggests that demographic may be disproportionally affected by sports gambling.

In February, a survey by Futbol Sites found that 61% of U.S. Latinos are either betting on sports or interested in doing so. Hispanic communities may face uncertainty in treatment due to a lack of Spanish-speaking resources and cultural barriers in the U.S.

“It’s been 24 years and 11 months since I placed my last bet,” said Julián, an Arizona Gamblers Anonymous (GA) member and founder. “And I’m still in GA.”

In 2001, the first Spanish-speaking GA opened in Arizona. Since then, Julián helped start additional locations to supplement the demand. He said the need is so great that members in other states attend Arizona GA meetings via Zoom.

According to Julián, the proliferation of Zoom helps individuals facing trepidation to find help amid cultural barriers.

“Because in the culture of Hispanics, there’s a thing called machismo,” Julián said. “The man of the house, you know, shouldn’t complain. The man of the house does not cry. The man of the house has to [take] on anything that comes along and be the one that doesn’t break down. So, when a compulsive gambler becomes addicted, all that has a bearing in getting help in a timely manner.”

Julián said he finds people from the Hispanic community see the meetings as a way to overlook their struggle amid economic insecurity and societal battles.

“I think it’s something in the brain that predisposes a person to become a compulsive gambler, [it] doesn’t mean they have to,” Julián said. “But under the right circumstances, they can use that as an escape. You know, and a lot of people that’s what I find out is special in the Hispanic community. It’s to escape from reality that they don’t like.”

Lia Nower, a professor and director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University, says Julián’s wisdom and sentiments aren’t off base.

“In our studies, individuals who identified as Hispanic/Latino report higher rates of high-risk gambling than other groups — about twice the rates of non-Hispanic whites,” she said. “They also tend to gamble more frequently, report more substance use, and gamble more online or both online and in land-based venues than non-Hispanics.”

Additionally, Nower agrees gambling can be used as a way for people to cope with stress and as a means of escaping unpleasant moods like depression or anxiety.

“[Cope gambling] leads to more and more gambling and the development of illogical thoughts that delude the person into thinking they can somehow control random chance,” she said. “The more they gamble, the more they lose, and that eventually leads to problem gambling.”

In Arnold’s case, he was introduced to a bookie in college by his fraternity friends. Surrounded by alcohol and a mutual appreciation of sports, it quickly became part of his culture. However, unlike his frat buddies, he developed an issue.

According to ASU’s Global Sport Institute, event wagering is often introduced by friends or family to participants at a whopping 37% rate, second only to TV commercials.

“Most of my friends just bet on football and basketball and that’s it,” Arnold said, recalling his problem gambling. “But I would be betting on Russian hockey or, you know, European ping pong and all this shit. I wasn’t even watching it. It was just like blindly gambling.”

A 2010 study suggests that in a pre-mobile betting scene, frat-affiliated male students had a much higher rate of problem gambling (14.8%) compared to males who were not affiliated with the organizations (5.4%). The study implies the impact of peer pressure and a facilitating environment can amplify problem behaviors.

“With the rise in mobile gambling, one concern is the ability for people to gamble in drinking establishments, such as groups of friends betting on a match,” said Luke Clark, a professor and director of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Gambling Research. “A lot of experimental research confirms how alcohol can reduce self-control and inhibition, and may also make gamblers less sensitive to negative feedback of losing.”

Legalization implications

According to the Arizona Division of Problem Gaming, the state does not have measures to understand the effects of legalization. Care is wholesale outsourced, making health outcomes unmeasured and opaque.

“We do not have a metric to track increases and decreases in problem gambling in the state,” said Elise Mikkelsen, director of Arizona’s Division of Problem Gambling. “We do not partner with behavioral health organizations currently. The Arizona Division of Problem Gambling subsidizes counseling for problem gamblers and persons affected by problem gambling.”

Despite laws to prohibit alcohol or tobacco distributors from targeting people, nothing exists to curb gambling’s appeal. Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized event wagering in 2018, an explosion of legalization has not brought regulations.

According to Jake Martin, a legal researcher for the Allan “Bud” Selig Master of Sports Law and Business Program at Arizona State University, national wager groups could use private consumer data to target an exploitable demographic.

“Arizona does not currently have a comprehensive privacy statute,” he said. “As such, the individual corporations appear to have ‘unregulated access’ to the data inputted. Companies would only be limited by the terms and conditions and privacy policies of the individual platforms.”

Max Hartgraves, spokesperson at the Arizona Department of Gaming, says the companies don’t have contractual obligations.

“There are [no] contracts between the state and gambling operators,” he said. “Rather, the state licenses gambling operators, allowing the Department to enforce and regulate operators to ensure they follow all the state’s gambling statutes and rules.”

Arizona has made at least $12 million in revenue from $1.2 billion wagered on sports bets since legalization. In a note supporting House Bill 2772, the 2021 event wagering law, government analysts projected the annual revenue from sports betting to reach $15.2 million by 2024.

“Twelve million is a drop in the bucket,” said Jeff Derevensky, a professor and the director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors at McGill University. “These guys are going to make a ton more money — just give it a little while. You’re walking around with a casino in your pocket.”

Despite Arnold’s struggle, he has seen support from his friends. They are aware of his addiction and his participation in GA. Gone are the days when people are treated as pariahs for needing help with a mental health issue.

With nearly all major league teams looking at attaching a team-associated sportsbook to their revenue stream and with lawmakers conspiring to bring it to the masses, Rose still has not been given any reprieve.

Arnold, like Rose, is resigned to a life without his love and may have a lifetime to realize it.

This article was first published by Courthouse News Service and is republished under their terms of use

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Michael McDaniel, Courthouse News Service
Michael McDaniel, Courthouse News Service

Michael McDaniel is a Phoenix-based reporter for Courthouse News, covering the courts for both civil and criminal cases.

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