Remember when we decided it was bad to spend too much time on the phones? That immersion in ours iPhones can be unhealthy or even addictive?
That was a couple of years ago. Puzzle me this: now something we already know can be addictive – sports betting – is available on these phones, followed by a media attack that promises a path to easy money. But there are few people who are worried about this combination. So what happens to the sports betting industry if someone – namely Apple or Google, who have tremendous control over what you can do with their phones – decides they have a problem with it?
Because, whether you approve of gambling or not, it seems obvious that making it easily accessible to anyone with a phone and debit card, with few or no restrictions and a bunch of ads encouraging you to bet, will cause problems for some people. This is not one of those stories about the side effects we have from technology: it’s right there, on the surface.
“The epidemic is on the rise,” says Felicia Grondin, executive director of the New Jersey Compulsive Gambling Council, where online sports betting has been legal since 2018. Since then, she says, the impact has been easy to understand: Before summer 2018, about 3 percent of calls on the phone line of her organization for problematic gamblers were people who said they had problems with sports betting. Now that number is about 17 percent.
New Jersey is the pinnacle of gambling spears because the state is directly responsible for it Judgment of the Supreme Court 2018, which gave some countries the opportunity to legalize online sports betting. But a flood of states ensued, spurred on by the promise of easy tax money – or the threat of losing that money in neighboring states where online betting is legal.
Large, well-capitalized companies – established gambling companies like MGM Resorts and relative newcomers like DraftKings and FanDuel – are arriving. They want you to start betting on sports directly from your couch, car or bar, betting on NFL games or Olympic hockey or the 2023 Rugby World Cup or anything else with a few touches. And they spend a ton of money to convince you: DraftKings alone spent a billion dollars on sales and marketing last year and plans to spend even more in 2022. (Discovery: Vox Media has a commercial relationship with DraftKings.)
And obviously there is a market for this. On the eve of the legalization, there was a debate about whether the bookmakers will present themselves to people who are already illegally betting on sports or will bring in random newcomers. We don’t know the answer yet, but we know that a lot of money can be made: In the first six weeks of legal sports betting was available in New York, residents pledged $ 2.5 billionwhich includes bets on the Super Bowl worth nearly $ 500 million. This week’s college basketball tournament March Madness should increase those numbers again.
I have been following the rise of legal online sports betting for some time – it is largely a media story because media companies, which once kept their nose at sports betting, now want to make money from programming and advertising sports betting. And the advent of sports betting apps coincidentally coincides with a movement to rethink our relationship with technology in general, and phones in particular, which gained real strength after the 2016 election.
In 2018, for example, former Apple CEO Tony Fadell, who helped create the iPhone, called on phone and app makers to promote “a healthy, moderate digital life … before government regulators decide to get involved.” At about the same time, activists love it former Google employee Tristan Harris they promoted the idea of “having a good time” on phones and devices and criticized app makers like Google and Facebook for becoming dopamine dealers. The New York Times suggested making your phone less attractive by graying the screen.
So, occasionally, when I meet game managers and investors who spit on the chance to turn sports betting from semi-underground entertainment into mainstream activity, I ask them: What happens if Apple or Google decide to bet sports – where every ad is accompanied by a Voiceover at the speed of a micro machine in the end it tells you to seek help if you have problems with betting – is it something they don’t want to happen on their devices?
Or what if they’re fine with sports betting, but want to make them a little less carefree and require more options and check-outs before you bet? Or if they simply limit the number of notifications that betting apps can send? (FanDuel, for example, sends me heads-up every day, and sometimes it works: an hour before the Super Bowl, I got a pop-up on my iPhone that tells me that FanDuel has improved the odds on bets on whether the first run in the game would resulted in a blow, and encouraged me to do so BET NOW ➡️. I did – and won – and then made two more bets while I was there.)
The gaming guys ’response was consistent: They look at me like I’m a moron and shrug.
But I don’t think it’s a completely idiotic question. Apple, in particular, was quite clear about the fact that Apple’s App Store is Apple’s App Store, and is willing to go to court to stay that way; ask Fortnite manufacturer Epic Games. Apple’s App Store edicts range from whimsical – Apple initially told developers to stop making farting iPhone apps because it already had enough – to moralistic ones – Steve Jobs was eager to keep porn apps out of his App Store. and the company followed his insistence after his death – and everything in between.
Apple also highlighted its commitment to responsible phone use; Shortly after Fadel’s 2018 essay, the company released the equivalent of nutrition labels for its apps, which should tell you what content you’ll find in the app, whether you’ll be asked for money and other useful-known things that many users probably completely ignore.
So I also asked Apple and Google, who have rules about how gambling apps should work, but those rules generally boil down to “these things have to be licensed, not scams.” And I got non-answers from them.
To be clear: I don’t necessarily think Apple or Google should stop me from betting on sports. And I don’t think sports betting is necessarily worse than many other vices or risky behaviors I can currently deal with on my phone. Without seams, it’s too easy for me to order more comfortable food than I should; Drizzly lets me buy whiskey without wearing pants. I bought dogecoin through Robinhood, a few minutes ago Elon Musk appeared on SNL, and now I have fallen 78 percent. And if I lived in California or Michigan, I would probably deliver rubber weed tires through my house Eaze. Not to mention spending time wasting things that distract me but don’t give me real pleasure, like doomscrolling and shit on Twitter.
Felicia Grondin agrees with me to some point. But she thinks it’s harder to detect people with sports gambling problems than, say, someone who struggles with substances. “It’s a hidden addiction,” she says. “You don’t feel it on someone’s breath; you can’t see it in their behavior until it’s too late. ”
It must be easy enough to get into trouble with these things: Ask Calvin Ridley, an Atlanta Falcons player who invested $ 1,500 in three NFL games last fall and has now been suspended for at least a year because league rules forbid players from betting on league games. Ridley’s bets will reportedly cost him more than $ 11 million in lost wages.
Again: I’m happy to have been able to invest $ 10 in NFL games from my bedroom. And when I think about my personal phone problems, sports betting apps aren’t on the list (currently at the top of the list: everyone in my son’s sixth grade uses Discord to gossip about each other, with predictable results). But it seems obvious that someone in the end – maybe federal or state regulators, maybe phone platforms – will want to take a step back and ask, “What have we done and how can we fix it?” I’d bet on that.