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Running the Numbers on Sports Gamblers | Dr. Joshua Grubbs

Table of Content

Table of Content

“Sports gambling itself is not inherently risky but sports gamblers are!”

Dr. Grubbs and his students at University of New Mexico are conducting research on the gambling habits of sports bettors and the results may surprise you. Their research has gathered data that show why sports bettors are more likely to engage in more forms of wagering, and why that behavior is a strong predictor that these gamblers are statistically more likely to develop a gambling addiction.

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Dr. Grubbs: I’m not sure that there’s any evidence to suggest that actually knowing about a sport makes you better at gambling.

Shane Cook: Understanding how and why sports betting introduces unique harms to individuals is a messy and complicated subject. Thankfully, our guest today is here to help us sort it out.

Dr. Grubbs: There’s this belief of gambling as a career versus gambling as an addiction is based on how much you win versus lose. And that’s a lovely thing to believe, I suppose, if you’re dealing with it. But the reality is it’s just not true.

Shane Cook: Welcome to another episode of Wager Danger. I’m your host, Shane Cook. Problem gambling program director with the Gateway Foundation. And today, our guest is Dr. Joshua Grubbs. Dr. Grubbs comes to us from the Department of Psychology at the University of New Mexico and is researching what separates sports gambling from other forms of gambling. Sports betting is fundamentally different today than it was just five years ago.

Micro betting in game wagering and unique parlays dominate the mobile sportsbook and create enhanced action while the game is unfolding. Dr. Grubbs helps break down what’s happening in the minds of some of these gamblers and why they might think that gambling more will actually make them better gamblers. Dr. Grubbs and his students offer a glimpse of the research they’re conducting, including why sports bettors demonstrate a higher likelihood to engage in more forms of wagering and how these attributes become strong predictors of why sports gamblers are statistically more likely to develop a gambling addiction.

Welcome to the show, Dr. Grubbs.

Dr. Grubbs: All right. Thank you so much for having me. I’m very pleased to be here.

Shane Cook: Yeah, we’re excited to have you. We had we had an opportunity to meet up with each other recently at the ICR conference out in Las Vegas and had the pleasure of sitting in on one of your presentations. Loved it was, well, sports betting and sports gaming, gambling and thought, man, that would make a great show for wager danger.

So thank you very much for agreeing to come on today. I’m looking forward to it during that time. During your presentation, you noted that you had a particular interest in the social construct of addiction, in particular with gambling. And I’m wondering if you can kind of unpack that for us.

Dr. Grubbs: Yeah, Yeah. So broadly speaking, you know, the when I’m talking to other professionals, other psychologists or addiction researchers, we always have these over elaborate and complex ways of describing what we do in really scientific terms. So so that that version for me is that, you know, I am an addiction researcher who is particularly interested in the social context of addiction.

What that means in just normal people speak is that I’m really interested in what makes people think that they have an addiction, right? So there’s often a gap between what our behaviors are and how we perceive them. For some things, like certain types of substances, we might see, Hey, this person clearly has a reading addiction to alcohol, but yet they think they have it under control.

Or maybe they have out of control gambling behavior, but they’re like, no, no, no, that’s not an addiction. For other behaviors, things like sexual behavior, we actually sometimes see the opposite where the person would be like, yeah, I did this sexual thing one time and I really regret it. I must have a sex addiction. It’s like, maybe not.

And so one of the things that we that we do in my research lab is getting into what are the contextual factors, what’s going on in that person’s life that leads them to say, yes, I definitely have an addiction. And so we extend that to gambling now. So gambling we don’t often see people saying, you know, I gambled once, I must have an addiction.

What we tend to see are people that are, you know, on that bubble, on that edge of maybe it’s an addiction, maybe it’s it’s not quite there. But there say, no, I’ve got it under control. No, I’ve got it under control. And we look at, you know, what are some of the factors that lead them to realize maybe this is creating a problem, maybe this is ruining my life.

And so that’s what we mean when we say social construct of addiction.

Shane Cook: Okay. Very interesting. So you’ve had the opportunity to work with many different process addictions through the year. And lately a lot of your research now has shifted towards sports gambling in particular, or at least that’s the impression I came away with after listening to you speak out there. Yeah. And I’m just curious why sports gambling, what what types of things around sports gambling make it particularly interesting for you?

Dr. Grubbs: Yes. So there’s an extremely long version of that story. And the slightly shorter version. So I’ll try to kind of split the difference. Right. So I come to gambling research by way of pornography research, which sounds like a weird, weird thing to say. But I actually got into the behavioral addiction space by researching compulsive sexual behavior and people that were compulsively using pornography.

And that led me to a training opportunity during I was when I was in graduate school working at the Cleveland VA. And so that’s an in Cleveland, Ohio, which at the time was the only residential treatment program for people with gambling addiction that were veterans. And I trained there with Dr. Heather Chapman and she’s like, Yeah, you know, the stuff that you’re doing is interesting, that you should be interested in gambling too.

And so I started treating it clinically and getting involved in veterans health and gambling. But one of the really enduring passions in my work is that I really like seeing how are studying how technology in particular changes our interactions with behaviors, particularly behaviors that can become out of control. So pornography is quite simple, right? You know, the philosophy of today looks very different than it did in the seventies, you know, magazines versus cell phones.

There’s a huge difference. Sports gambling is actually a pretty decent analog there. Right. So we used to see that gambling was you know, you had to go to the casino, you had to know where the you know, off the know under the table sportsbooks, where you had to know where the illegal casinos were, those kind of things. Right.

The Internet has changed that. So now we’re in the situation where a type of gambling that used to be just between friends or you really had to know where to make your bets has become. I can do this from my phone in the privacy of my own home. I can keep updating it. I can keep going back to it.

There’s no accountability around it. There’s no barrier. And so when when technology allows us to reduce the friction between a potentially problematic behavior and the person engaging in it, that’s one of the things that I’m really fascinated by. And so sports wagering is a really good example of that, right?

Shane Cook: So if I recall, you kind of walk through the history of this, right. And how we got to the the uber accessibility that we have with sports gambling, and it’s been in a relatively short period of time. Right. Right. So the history kind of goes like up until 2018. And you do a really good job of stating this.

We had we had essentially two different places where we could go legally and. Right. And place wagers for sports. Right? Right.

Dr. Grubbs: So essentially, yeah, before 2018, Right. You could wager on sports in Nevada and there were a few tribal casinos that allow that as well, but they were very few and far between. It wasn’t a very substantial revenue booster even for those casinos. So it really was if you wanted to gamble legally, you went to Vegas. I mean, theoretically, you could have gone to other parts of Nevada, but you went to Vegas, right?

Or you gambled illegally, whether with friends with the sportsbook. In the era of the Internet. Right. Since the Internet has existed, there has been increasing amounts of illegal gambling available via. So so people were finding it there as well. But again, accessibility is is a function of how legal something is as well. So, yes, you know, it’s there.

If you knew where to look is very different than saying it’s literally everywhere. You don’t have to ask. And so that’s what we’ve seen over the past five years with Murphy versus in CAA, the Supreme Court decision where the Supreme Court said that states get to choose whether or not sports wagering is legal within their borders and then they can regulate it in whatever way they see fit with that decision.

Sports wagering has spread to over 35 states at this point in time, and then among the majority of them, they have allowed for sports betting via cell phone, via the Internet. In states like Ohio, you have that. You also have sports bars, gambling kiosks in them, and then you have the traditional sportsbooks and those have their sportsbooks. And so it’s literally everywhere in a lot of states now.

Shane Cook: Yeah. And we have talked about it on the show before, but there’s a sportsbook at Wrigley Field now. And their plan, they’re planning to open one up at what it’s now called Guaranteed Rate Field, where the Chicago White Sox play. Right. So I can anticipate and I believe they even have a sportsbook now at the United Center where the Chicago Bulls play.

So you can almost anticipate that these arenas are going to start building out more and more sportsbooks as well.

Dr. Grubbs: So certainly, I mean, you see this at all, the sportsbooks all over the country now. I mean, there is an irony that we see right in that you have folks like Pete Rose, who I think most listeners are probably familiar with. Right. We’ll never make it into the Hall of Fame in baseball. Not granted. The he gambled on his own games, but he committed an unpardonable sin, an absolutely on cardinal sin by being a gambling professional sports manager player.

Right. And that’s bad. He’ll never make it in the Hall of Fame, despite many Hall of Fame talent, too. Now, all of the stadiums are like, yeah, yeah, we have a sportsbook in the stadium. You know, we have the King Fantasy Center within our stadium. We have this particular sportsbook within our stadium, and it’s a pretty, pretty massive cultural shift over the past few decades.

Shane Cook: Sure. I mean, you can even go back to the beginning of the century or the previous century. And what comes to mind for people in Chicago was the Chicago Black Sox. I mean, that was another scandal that revolved around fixing a game and the outcomes. Right. And Shoeless Joe Jackson is banned for life from entering the Hall of Fame as well.

So right now, we now we’ve essentially opened the doors to live gambling right on premise.

Dr. Grubbs: It’s now.

Shane Cook: It’s interesting.

Dr. Grubbs: Very much to.

Shane Cook: Say the least. So what was the big draw then for you when it came to gambling and you decided, hey, I want to I want to focus some research here. I know there’s parallels to what you’ve done before, but there there I’m sure there was another piece of that that that really kind of drew you to sports in particular.

Dr. Grubbs: Yeah. No, I mean, for me, it is the novelty of it isn’t. And not to say, I mean, sports wagering has existed as long as sports have existed, but we’ve gone from essentially over unders and the odds line for wagers rights are wagering on the total points being scored in a game and wagering on who’s going to win or who’s not going to win.

You know, to now we have this highly interactive, highly engaging form of sports betting where you can bet on the individual plays, individual players, and you can string players together and you can do parlays, which are right when you bet on multiple outcomes all at once. And you have to have all of them hitting. And it’s this technological explosion of of accessibility but also novelty within it.

It’s just to me, it’s just a fascinating point in our in our development in how we approach things. I think, you know, to be quite honest, in my research career, right, electronic gaming machines of slot machines, the electronic slots pre-date my entry into the field. Like those really started to take off in the late nineties and early 2000s.

And then my understanding of talking to people that have been in the gambling research field for four decades is that was an absolute kind of revolution in the space of like, okay, we need to wrap our heads around that. And I think, you know, Internet enabled gambling, but specifically sports wagering has arrived at the exact same point where something new has entered and it’s altering what we think we knew.

Right? Research on how sports gamblers gamble. That was published in 2014. Read some really great research. I know it was published 2014, not even a decade old, but at this point it’s almost obsolete because everything has changed in how people can do it. So, so generally like, well, who’s betting? And you know, how do people make bets? Well, that might apply.

But the reality is, is it it didn’t look like in 2014 what it looks like now because the mobile that the the parlays that are available, the in-game betting that’s available things are different now than they were even then.

Shane Cook: So how so how did that progression take place or what what does your research start to tell you in terms of, you know, what’s different about the sports better today than previous? Is is it the opportunity or is it the types of games that are available?

Dr. Grubbs: Those are the things. Yeah, there’s there’s a few things going on there. I mean, one of the major differences. Well, let me step the first. The people that are most likely to bet on sports now and the people who are most likely bet on sports maybe ten, 12 years ago, even 20 years, you’re probably roughly similar. What I mean by that is sports gambling is disproportionately men and disproportionately younger men and tend to be men that have, you know, the access to and from our own research.

Now we know that sports voters tend to be higher edge, higher educated individuals, higher income, younger men. Right. So some of those things, I think probably held in the past. But I think when we’re again, more thinking about kind of what has shifted, that accessibility is so key. I mean, one of the best predictors of whether or not you’ve bet on sports in the past 12 months is whether or not you live in a state where betting on sports is legal.

So the accessibility alone is bringing people into the space, people that maybe wouldn’t have thought to do it before. I mean, the other piece is, is the way that it has become so integrated into the game. Right. So we again, even if you were betting on sports and say even 2015, you would never have sportscasters talking about odds lines between plays.

You wouldn’t have commercials for sportsbooks between plays, you wouldn’t have the odds lines and the different outcomes rolling across the ticker at the bottom of the screen. But that’s what we have now. And similarly, you know, with, you know, online sportsbooks that were maybe operating illegally before 2018, some of them had some pretty impressive reaches, but nothing compared to what we see today.

You know, I can bet on sports going on globally, Right. I can bet on table tennis that’s happening in Russia and tennis is happening in Australia. I can bet on, you know, what’s going on right now in the NFL season as well as the start of the NBA season. And then, you know, we can also bet futures on what’s going to happen next season.

And so there’s there’s all of these different types of gambling that are available and it’s constant. Right. You you can’t you could gamble for 24 hours straight, making nothing but live gambling bets. And because of how globally interconnected the sport scenes are, now you can go to one Sportsbooks app and keep betting for 24 hours straight and be betting on live games the entire time.

And that just didn’t exist, you know, ten years, right?

Shane Cook: Yeah. It’s crazy, isn’t it? I mean, you start thinking about how the availability of that type of betting a person could get sucked in and and really find themselves in financial trouble really quickly, Right?

Dr. Grubbs: Yeah. No, I mean, I think any time we you know, this is a term that we talk that we see operators use rates of sportsbooks or casino operators in general. They talk about friction points in the process and generally speaking in the industry is largely motivated to reduce friction between the consumer and the gambling behavior, because the less friction, the more they do, the more the gamble.

Right. And so as we’ve reduced friction and we have consistently reduced friction as we’ve seen these reductions, I mean, that that’s exactly what’s happening. When it used to be, you know, you had to find your bookie and go make a bet with him versus now I get my bookies in my phone and always updating like that. That lack of friction, if you will, just means that you’re able to spiral more quickly.

Andrew Able to start engaging in more problematic or dangerous behaviors, if you will, simply because if you’ve got, you know, the line of credit open, if you’ve got cash, I mean, most most gambling activities, you’re required use debit or some sort of cash reserve or something like that. But if you have any access to it that you can just keep going until it’s all gone.

Shane Cook: It reminds me of something that stuck with me out in Vegas. You threw out this phrase Sports gambling itself is not inherently risky, but sports gamblers are. And what is it about the individual sports better that makes them more prone to take that risk?

Dr. Grubbs: Right. Right. So, yeah, you know, one of the the catch phrases that we’ve concluded from the research we have going on is that sports gambling itself, right, is not inherently risky. Sports gamblers are risking what we mean by that is, you know, all gambling is inherently risky to some extent or another is sports. Gambling itself doesn’t seem to be, you know, inherently more risky than, say, slots play or blackjack or roulette or craps or whatever.

Right. The need the nature of placing a bet on a sporting event is not inherently worse than one of those things. But when we look at the people that are most likely to be heavily engaged or even casually engaged in sports betting, they’re people they tend to be younger men, and younger men tend to be more impulsive. Right.

But even controlling for them being younger and being men, the people that are betting on sports are more likely to be the type of person that’s drinking to excess, that’s more likely to be experimenting with different kind of substances, more likely to be the type of person that’s trading speculatively with cryptocurrency, the more likely to be the type of person that’s making impulsive and rash decisions on a regular basis.

And so sports betting, you know, I don’t think sports betting is taking these really good, thoughtful patient individuals and turning them into absolute impulsive gamblers. Right. I think that it appeals to the more impulsive people. And so it’s it’s a matter of, you know, is the target audience for sports betting, people that are more likely to make problems.

I mean, to have problems with people that are more likely to make poor decisions. And I think our research is consistently pretty showing. Pretty clearly showing that, yeah, that’s that’s exactly who is being pulled into jumping into the sports wagering scene.

Shane Cook: Yeah. And what are you seeing in terms of the problematic behaviors with sports bettors versus other types of gamblers? And what’s the what’s the difference there in terms of how many people are more likely to exhibit problem gambling behavior versus a slots player, for example?

Dr. Grubbs: Yes. So we certainly are consistently saying that sports gamblers compared to non sports gamblers. So. Right. So imagine three categories of people. There’s people that don’t gamble at all. There’s the people that gamble, but never on sports. And then there’s the people that gamble on sports. Well, so when we compare those those two groups, just the two games, the ones that are gambling on sports are the ones that are gambling, but not all sports.

What we consistently see is that the sports gamblers are gambling more often. They are gambling with a greater breadth of play. And so breadth of play is again, I mentioned earlier, we researchers like to use overly convoluted language too to make ourselves sound smarter, but breadth of play just means different types of gambling activity. So sports wagers are all quite likely not to just say, Oh, I gambled on sports in the past year.

They’re likely to say, Yeah, I was playing at Daily Fantasy football. I was playing regular sports wagering, hit the slots a couple of times, and I was also playing blackjack at the local casino, right? Or things like that. They’re more likely to say they’ve done more or different activities over the past year, and both of those are extremely concerning.

Playing more frequently and playing more different kinds of gambling are both very strong indicators or predictors of problems of symptoms of gambling disorder or symptoms of gambling addiction. If you are into sports, wagers are more likely to be higher on both of those metrics, which just tells you, like these are people that are already more at risk. They’re engaging in riskier behaviors, they’re doing more problematic things that are more likely to lead to developing real problems down the road.

Shane Cook: Okay. So one of the things that I recall you had mentioned during your your presentation, too, was this concept which I had not heard of before, but the fallacy of predictive control all. And I think I get it, but I’d really like to hear that explanation. Yeah.

Dr. Grubbs: In gambling research, one of the factors that we’re often quite interested in as people that are researching people with gambling disorder in particular, is the degree to which gamblers exhibit what we would call cognitive distortions or cognitive fallacies, which again, fancy word. But what it really breaks down to is gamblers often exhibit a lot of erroneous or just wrong beliefs about how things work with gambling.

So maybe it’s a misunderstanding of statistics. Maybe it’s a misunderstanding of how chance works. Maybe it’s a belief that there’s that they can control the outcome of a game. You know, you the classic example would be the slots player that says, I can predict when that slot machine is going to happen. It’s like that algorithm is just impossible, right?

So predictive control is one of those cognitive fallacies, right? A predictive control is the idea that you can predict an outcome before it happens. Now, it’s easy to see why that’s a huge problem for something that’s truly random like slots or the lottery or whatever, when there’s just nothing but chance going on. And so if someone says, Oh, I can predict when the slot machine is going to hit or I’m going to predict what the Powerball numbers are going to be, well, we can easily say, well, person’s wrong or right, But but sports are tricky, right?

So sports gamblers demonstrate a lot of this belief. Well, no, I can predict the outcome. And and part of that is that that’s the entire premise and allure of sports gambling is is that you’re betting on your ability to make that prediction. Right. And so there’s this belief that, well, I can do that. I can come out ahead in media, and especially when we look at the different, you know, oddsmakers and tip sellers and different I hesitate to use the word educational because I hope I get to use the right word.

But the gist of the industry that’s built up around advising people on the type of sports bets that they should make, you know, my sure picks for winning when you look at that that industry, it’s all built on the idea. Yes, you can get better at this and you can predict the outcome right in And then that’s that’s a tricky problem.

Right. For for a gambler to have especially someone that has a gambling problem, because if they genuinely believe that they can get good enough to predict the outcome, it’s a lot harder to than convince them. Maybe you need to step back and stay away from this, right? Yeah. You know, oftentimes sports bettors, we see this in other action based games as well.

So things like poker or even blackjack to an extent as well. There’s this belief of if I can get good enough, I can definitely win enough and then I won’t have a gambling problem anymore. And it’s this idea of, you know, gambling as a career versus gambling as an addiction is based on how much you win versus lose.

And that’s a lovely thing to believe, I suppose, if you’re dealing with it. But the reality is it’s just not true. If you can’t stop, if you’re chasing your losses, if you’re making bad decisions, if you’re finding yourself in debt that you’re not, you’re not going to get better. One, I mean, that’s just not going to happen. But to that predictive control belief that that belief that you can see the future before it’s going to happen is just going to get in the way of you getting the help that you need to get over this problem that you did.

Shane Cook: Right. Well, I could see, too, and I think to some degree, some of the prognosticators out there, some of the people that are that are laying the odds kind of play to this idea that, hey, if you if you’ve been an athlete if you played the game, you know what we’re talking about, you know, it kind of plays up to the to the ego side of somebody who may come at this having played football, maybe collegiately, maybe semi-pro even, or professional for that matter.

And they really have this idea that they can predict the outcomes with it fairly certain. Right. That they can but rarely take into account the the event that nobody saw coming. Right.

Dr. Grubbs: Yeah. I mean the chance is always there and that’s the nature. And one of the things we have to realize, whether it’s slots, blackjack, craps or sports, right. The house is always going to come out ahead. Right. So the ability to to make sports bets, there is an understanding from the industry itself that that this can be a profitable endeavor for them.

Yeah chance at random events are constantly happening to the bet you know you can have an amazing prediction for a game. You can’t predict too that your star player is going to blow his ACL. On the third play, I just, you know, Aaron Rodgers going down in the Jets greatly this season is one of those examples. And so that that’s a huge part of it.

And I think another part of it is this belief that understanding how a game works is going to make you a better sports game when I think and so one of my students is actually doing a lot of research in this space because this is a a desert in the research community, which by that I mean we really have not studied this enough.

So one of my students is actually doing his dissertation on this topic is I’m not sure that there there’s any evidence to suggest that actually knowing about a sport makes you better at gambling on it. In fact, I would almost bet and pardon the pun, right, that the people that do the best at sports gambling are not the ones that have the most knowledge of how sports work.

It’s the people who have the most knowledge of how odds lines work and statistics work. Okay? And even in that situation, though, there’s a lot of chance that’s involved. And if you talk to professional sports wagers, people who make most of their income off of sports betting, they’re not talking about massive life changing wins all they took a 1 to 1000 odds, right?

That’s not what they did. They bet large volumes of money on, you know, basically minuscule odds lines that if you do enough, eventually you win just enough to make a little bit of profit. Right. And so it’s not the glamorous you know, you had the sleeper pack that beat everyone kind of life that people seem to think it is.

It’s more of playing the statistics game in much the same way that we see the stock market working right or things like that. And so it’s not it’s messy. And this notion that just because you’re a skilled athlete or that you have a history with sports or used to coach high school football or whatever is not necessarily going to make you any better at all and actually placing those bets.

Shane Cook: Right? Well, we see that every year in the office, in see a pool that people put, right? Yeah.

Dr. Grubbs: I mean, March Madness is the classic example of this, of, you know, it’s easy for someone to predict which teams are going to make it to the big day because you’re using this is a basic principle of statistics. You’re not looking at the outcome of one game. You’re looking at the outcome of an entire season, get lots of data points.

But when it comes to these split-second kind of decisions that are associated with last minute shots and things like that, we’re looking at one data point. It’s actually immensely hard to predict that. And so, you know, oddsmakers are often really good at the beginning of a baseball season of saying who’s going to make it to the playoffs?

What’s going to happen in a given game? They have no idea. And so it’s that’s just the nature of how statistics work. And again, I think that knowledge probably makes people that are sports wagers, but that’s certainly not what’s being marketed to the public. Yes. That’s saying, hey, if you get an advanced degree in statistics and probability and you understand how odds were you can improve your odds of coming out ahead, more often than not, that’s not a very common selling point.

Right. What they what they tell you is like, you know, bet here, get some skin in the game. How fun that kind of thing there. Sell the experience.

Shane Cook: Be part of the action.

Dr. Grubbs: Be part of the action, not not study the odds line, be part of the action. And that’s that’s not a message that’s going to be associated with maybe winning more.

Shane Cook: Yeah. You see, at that time in the World Series going on right now in the playoffs, the league championship series and divisional playoff series, who would have predicted that we’d end up with the teams? We ended up with this, right?

Dr. Grubbs: Right. I mean, right.

Shane Cook: Well, what one of them. One of them they probably would have predicted. Right. But but the Diamondbacks.

Dr. Grubbs: This is one of the things that. Yeah, I know that I’ve talked to friends about is like, you know, how do you statistically adjust an odds line to account for the fact that Houston doesn’t know how to play baseball at home right. Like, how do you do that? And so it’s it’s this messy kind of thing. And so on the one hand, like, you know, it’s kind of fun looking at how those things fit together.

But you can imagine if you’re a gambler in that space and you’ve got X amount of dollars on Houston coming and pulling it out against apparently against all odds of winning a game at home. And it just becomes this absolute. I mean, it takes what is kind of a funny observation or a weird thing and turns it into this very critical experience for somebody that can be absolutely devastating.

I mean, we know that in the UK, which is the U.S. sports gambling, long before we did that, you know, they have dealt with, you know, spikes in suicide after major matches that a team loses and not because you’re just so devastated your team lost, but you’re devastated your team lost. And also your mortgage payment is for the next three months is also gone to.

Yeah. And so it does have this really kind of a catastrophic effect for some people because they overleveraged themselves. They get overconfident, they get too deep into a hole and they don’t know how to do account for it. And so, you know, we know I’m sure you’ve talked about this before, that suicide in gamblers is a real issue and it’s often quite high compared to other addictive disorders.

And that debt in the devastation that that wreaks on people’s lives is is a huge part of it. And there’s no reason to think that sports wagering would be indifferent. I mean, looking at countries that have been dealing with this longer, we should we should be expecting that to be an issue here over the next several years.

Shane Cook: Yeah, And I’m glad you brought that up because I did want to explore that a little bit more. Sports wagering or the legalization and multiple states adoption of legal sports wagering here in the US is relatively new compared to the European countries that have legalized it. Australia comes to mind. What do you see when you look out across those two countries in particular?

Let’s go with the UK and Australia because I think there’s quite a bit of research out there that has studied this. In terms of trends, are we tracking the same way here in the U.S.? It’s still too early to tell, but if you could just kind of walk us through some of the trends that have emerged in Europe and Australia and if you can look out into the future and rights and say, hey, we need to be on the lookout for that here.

Dr. Grubbs: Yeah, no, certainly. So for right after I really started getting into this research space, I was doing an interview with an NPR station and they asked me, they said, you know, in the UK where they’ve had this legal for over a decade now, what is the U.S. learning from the UK’s example? And my response was kind of tongue in cheek, but also serious.

And it was that, well, the US has a 250 year history of not learning from the UK. You know, that’s, that’s kind of part of our national identity is not listening to what the UK has done. But, but the reality is there’s also a fair bit of truth, and that is I think our approach to a lot of, you know, public health kind of things in the US is kind of the the let it rip, let it go and then we’ll figure out what’s going on instead of, hey, let’s take a very thoughtful and careful approach.

And I think that this is something we see in the sports wagering scene. So one of the huge differences between the UK and Australia and what we have going on in the States is that in the UK and Australia there’s federal or the equivalent of federal right, there’s national government regulation of sorts, sports gambling. And I’m not the type that says, Oh, we need the Federal Government jumping in and all of our business.

That’s not what I’m advocating for it. But in the US, tobacco is federally regulated and alcohol federally regulated and a lot of other substances are federally regulated. A lot of other activities are federally regulated. So it seems to me that gambling maybe should be in that same category. Now, there’s obviously lots of reasons why folks may not want that to happen, especially folks that have vested interest there.

But because of this, you know, learning lessons from the UK in Australia is hard because in the US we don’t have one set of regulations on gambling. We have 35, 37 sets depending on what you know, what state or where you are and things like that. And so how game is accessible and how sports wagering is affecting the lives of Mexicans.

Where I live, where you can only gamble on sports in one of six in-person tribal casinos is very different than what the people in Ohio are experiencing or the people in Illinois are experiencing. Right. And so I think that makes it hard to generalize. Now, having said that, you’re absolutely right. The UK and Australia in particular have really done amazing work over the past decade of digging deeper into what’s going on with sports wagering and what we know from Australia is similar to here, right?

Younger men with more income are more likely to gamble on sports people that are gambling on a bunch of different activities instead of just one or more likely to have problems. People that are gambling more frequently, that are more likely to have problems, and in theory, that allows a country that has more nationalized regulation to impose safety guidelines on people.

Right. So right now the UK is in the middle of revisiting all of their gambling legislation because they think that their gambling legislation is out of date and they’re using an evidence based in a scientific approach from mental health professionals and researchers to understand where they need to go next to prevent harm while still allowing access to an activity that lots of folks from the UK enjoy engaging in.

And the Australia has their own regulatory approach. So in the States we’re not taking an evidence based approach.

Shane Cook: Right? I want to explore that a little bit more. So if I’m hearing you correctly, then yeah, in the UK they’re actually working with health mental health service providers who are on the front line, who are dealing with people with gambling addictions and taking that to affect policy. That sounds like a novel idea.

Dr. Grubbs: It’s wild, isn’t it? You know, this is currently happening right now in the UK, has been happening for a few months. Where were the directors of the national problem? Gambling groups there and researchers. So there a research psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Henrietta Boulton, just an eminent in her field in so many regards who who’s got is spearheading a lot of these efforts.

But they are they’re dialoging with researchers and mental health professionals, people that have witnessed gambling harms to understand what’s happening and make policy recommendations based on that. And what’s cool about it is that because there’s a national authority on it, it allows them, you know, if if regulations are adjusted, if guidelines are changed, if recommendations are made, and then Parliament decides, yeah, we should do that, well then that that affects gambling throughout the UK in its entirety.

Whereas in the in the States at least at this point, you know, we might be able to convince one state to engage in more evidence based recommendations. But getting 35 or 37 states, you know, is becomes a lot harder.

Shane Cook: Yeah, and I can see that because each state here is incentivized different ways. And terms are right. The different tax rates that are imposed on revenues that fall back to the state, depending on how how I, I don’t know any other way to say this, but depending on how well you negotiate your deal at the state level with the gaming operators is dependent on how much money you’re going to get.

Right? Yeah. And somehow some states got hoodwinked along the way there.

Dr. Grubbs: And it is I mean, there are states like I believe Ohio’s tax rate is something around something around 10% of the profit that the that the sports operators are making goes back in taxes, which is I mean, 10% is not anything to sneeze at, but there’s other states that are closer to 50%. And so it’s it is this type of thing where you see this massive these just massive differentials in how it’s approached and how difficult it is to operate as a sportsbook in that state.

And also the funding that is then available for research and and prevention and treatment within the state. Now, I will say, you know, I mentioned Ohio, 10% doesn’t sound like that much. Ohio is investing in gambling related research. They are extremely invested in prevention and treatment. You know, if you have if you have gambling related problems in the state of Ohio, you can find treatment for free.

Yeah, which is great. I mean, that’s amazing resource. And a lot of that is because of what’s been negotiated across the casinos and the lottery. And and this as well. So.

Shane Cook: Right. And fortunately we have that same we have have the same availability through Illinois Department of Health and Human Services. If somebody needs to find a gambling problem, gambling treatment. Illinois has funding set up for somebody to get that same that. So I think that’s at least a step, a positive step in the right direction right now.

Dr. Grubbs: I agree. I mean, so I am a licensed clinical psychologist myself, and I firmly believe that we need to have well-funded access to treatment in states like Ohio. Actually, the bigger problem is not having the funding for treatment. I mean, we have that. It’s that we need more qualified professionals didn’t know how to treat it. And so access is a two is kind of both financial resource to get the treatment and and the professionals to provide it.

And then again, you know, Illinois is the same way. Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts. There are several states that are really good examples, though, of offering opportunities for people to get training, offering opportunities for people to get more, more skilled in dealing with this, which is great because we do have to have the providers and be able to pay for the providers.

And and that’s happening now. Having said all of that, I still believe. Right. And ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Right. And we do need to be doing more to prevent harms because treating harm is great and we absolutely should. But the best treatment is preventing the harm from happening. And so whether that’s education, whether that’s regulation, whether it’s combination of all of those kind of things we need to be doing more state to state and nationally to try to step in and prevent people from developing these problems.

Because getting your gambling under control when you’re $100,000 in debt is better than not, but it’s still not as good as getting it under control when you have the $10 in debt. Right. So right there, there is that piece, I think prevention is huge.

Shane Cook: Yeah, that’s a great point and certainly one that we try to underscore every day by being out being out among the public can talking about problem gambling and exposing people to the potential harms that exist within that come along with gambling. So I we’re going to run short on time here. And there’s one thing I wanted to add. It’s a fascinating topic. I think we could probably do another show and maybe once you get the next round of your research complete, right, maybe we come back together and do this again. But one thing that I always like to ask everybody, what is what is the one thing that you have learned throughout this process of studying gambling that, really shocked or surprised you?

Dr. Grubbs: In my career of studying gambling, one of the one of the biggest shocks, but then has made a lot of sense with me is that we’ve done a lot of work linking trauma and PTSD to again, so that’s a more global one. But with sports wagering in particular, I knew that sports wagers were probably a little bit more impulsive, that they were probably making a few more rash decisions.

I can assume that just because sports wagering was appealing to young men and young men are dumb. I used to be a young man. I used to do dumb things, right? So like, I kind of thought that would be they’re.

Shane Cook: Kind of wired that way.

Dr. Grubbs: Right? I didn’t expect to see it as dramatically as we did. I mean, these guys are binge drinking more and they’re smoking weed more and they’re they’re smoking cigarets more. They’re using other substances more. And it’s not to say that every sports wager is doing all these things, but it is a really dramatic set of effects. And some of the strongest effects I’ve seen in a lot of the research that I do and that that has been shocking and also concerning because in general, you know, that’s not a demographic young, educated men with higher income are not the type of folks that are likely to reach out for help.

Right. You know, that, you know, strong will they don’t need help is more likely to be there. So I do have concerns over the next several years of just, you know, what what are we going to see? You know, what’s it going to take for these groups of people to start saying, no, I’ve got a problem. I need help?

You know, how bad will it have to get? And so it may not be as bad as I’m worried. But given how strong some of these effects are that we’ve seen in our research, I do have a lot of kind of concerns moving forward.

Shane Cook: Well, you had to lay out some big areas there to be concerned about. Well, Josh, I really appreciate you joining the show today. It’s been a fantastic conversation. Again, I hope we do have the opportunity to come back together. Yeah, definitely. You’re invited anytime. If you’ve got something you want to talk about giving now, shoot me an email.

Okay, I can I’ll do the same, but we’ll plan to catch up down the road here and. Yeah, follow up to this.

Dr. Grubbs: Yeah I was going to say, but probably this time next year we’ll have results from our two year study all wrapped up and we’ll be able to talk not just about who’s gambling, what’s going on. We’ll be able to talk about how that gambling behavior has affected those people over time and what has happened to them specifically. And so I think the date of that can be a really fun conversation.

We’re maybe not fine, but a good conversation.

Shane Cook: Good conversation.

Dr. Grubbs: Here.

Shane Cook: Again, this is all about creating awareness for people and the more aware, more educated everyone is about the potential harms for gambling, the better. And that’s what we that’s what we strive to do here. So again, I certainly appreciate the conversation.

Dr. Grubbs: Right. Glad to be here.

Shane Cook: We love hearing from you. So please take a moment to like, share and comment on our podcast. You can reach out to us directly via email at Wage of Danger at Gateway Foundation. Talk. Look for us on Facebook and Twitter at Recovery Gateway on LinkedIn, at Gateway Dash Foundation, or through our website at Gateway Foundation. Dot org Wager Danger is supported through funding in whole or in part through a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Division of Substance to Use Prevention and Recovery.

And remember, Recovery is a lifelong process. If you are a family member struggling with a gambling problem, call Gateway at 8449753663 and speak with one of our counselors for a confidential assessment.

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