Will Underage Gambling Concerns Prevent California Sports Betting Legalization?

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: May 31, 2024 08:00 PM
Will Underage Gambling Concerns Prevent California Sports Betting Legalization?

As online sports betting in the United States continues to become more popular, the stands against it are growing louder. This is perhaps most true on the subjects of California sports betting as well as Texas sports betting.

Both the Golden State and Lone Star State profile as top three USA sports betting markets. Naturally, then, the spotlight will always be on them. But the focus is strong these days for two seasons. First, and most obviously, 38 states have now legalized some form of sports betting. That puts two of the top-three gambling markets in the minority. It’s one thing to be one of the 12 remaining holdouts. It’s another when, quite plausibly, two of those states stand to lead the country in sports betting revenue if and when legalization takes effect.

Secondly, and much less talked about, we have the influx of information when it comes to sports wagering in the United States. We are now more than a half-decade removed from the Supreme Court of the United States overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018. And since more than half the country has introduced varying degrees of sports betting in that time, the states without it understand more of the intricacies.

Indeed, this information flow includes all of the benefits associated with legal sports betting. But it includes the risks and downsides, too. And while those issues can be viewed as obstacles to address and remedy upon legalization, they can also dissuade the legalization process. That is, perhaps, what we’re seeing when it comes to sports betting in California.

Recent Study Sparked Impassioned Call for Officials to Table California Sports Betting Efforts

Two factors are driving the opposing views of California sports betting—one of which we’ve covered at length. The recent scandal involving Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter continues to be packaged as a cautionary tale. Though the MLB superstar was not directly involved, his adjacent connection has prompted questions along the lines of: What happens when, inevitably, a superstar player who can influence the outcome of games and championships gets caught betting on his own team or events? 

That’s a risk pro sports have by and large decided to live with, given all the money at stake. It’s also one that can be effectively regulated. Scandals make headlines, but that’s only because they’re detected. 

The other primary opposing view is much, much harder to reconcile: problem gambling. More specifically, underage gambling. As Dave Zirin recently wrote for the Los Angeles Times, there has been a noticeable uptick in underage sports wagering. And he believes it should prevent California sports betting from ever becoming legal:

“There is an ugly underbelly to the sportsbooks’ mega-profits, the leagues’ collusion and the states that collect taxes. It has been showing up particularly among the young. A youth gambling epidemic has exploded since the Supreme Court, with urging from the NBA, decided in 2018 to allow states to legalize sports betting. For ensnared teenagers (it’s illegal for minors to bet but hard to enforce) and young people, gambling not just on the final score but pitch by pitch and shot by shot on a phone app is becoming an acute social crisis. To take just one state, in the five years since New Jersey legalized sports wagers, calls to the state’s gambling addict helpline tripled, driven by gamblers ages 25-34.”

Can the Concerns that Come with Legal Sports Betting be Overcome?

This is a question that’s tough to answer. It might even be impossible. The simple fact, though, is that whether it’s California sports betting, New York sports betting, Massachusetts sports betting or gambling in any other region, there’s no panacea to the downsides of legal wagering. Just as other enjoyments can and will always create issues, the same goes for sports gambling.

The real question, then, is whether the legalization of California sports betting (or gambling in any other state) can be done in a way that minimizes risks as much as possible. The jury’s still out on this one. 

Sure, states allocate part of their sports betting revenue to problem gambling programs. But the amounts tend to be negligible. And so many of those programs are reactive rather than preemptive. Great strides need to be made in the latter category. 

Certain states are already taking steps to crack down on some of the risks. Ohio sports betting officials are at the forefront of increased regulation for the marketing and advertising practices of online sportsbooks in the USA. Even more recently, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has started talking about self-exclusion programs that span throughout the entire country. Right now, problem gamblers can generally only add themselves to single-state exclusion lists. 

All of which is a start. But it’s not close to being enough. And it is imperative that preventive measures become both more commonplace and effective. New approaches will demand trial and error. That means it could take years before we see the intended results. 

California Sports Betting Timeline Could be Contingent Upon More Comprehensive Regulation

So while many experts believe a bill that legalizes sports betting in California will be passed in 2025 or 2026, there’s a chance that proves too ambitious. State officials clearly have concerns. 

The same goes for voters. Remember, Californians turned down two separate sports betting initiatives in 2022

Perhaps these concerns simply lead to a California sports betting bill with aggressive regulation and preventive measures. But it could also go the other way. Rather than be at the forefront of contemporary regulation, California may want to see more effective practices be implemented and succeed before joining the majority of the country.

Make no mistake, legal sports betting in the United States is here to say. And it does serve a purpose, both as a form of entertainment and a means to coax people out of investing money in unregulated and illegal markets. However, the industry isn’t perfect. And until measurable improvement is made, holdout states like California could continue to be just that.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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