Wisconsin Legal Sports Betting has State Worried About Gambling Addictions Among Teens

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jul 27, 2022 12:00 AM
Wisconsin legal sports betting has state officials worried about uptick in teen gambling.

Wisconsin legal sports betting has, for the most part, been considered a huge win for the state. Its rollout isn't even a year old, and already Wisconsin sports betting projects to be worth more than expected. But the effects of legal sports betting in Wisconsin aren't all peachy keen. Like any policy changes, there is a downside, and the state is now starting to reconcile one of their largest ones: an uptick in gambling among high school teenagers. 

Most places in the United States have been bracing for dramatic increases in gambling problems among of-age adults. Call centers and online chats have reported massive upswings in people seeking help compared to 2021, according to multiple news outlets. But the issue of underage gambling problems is less talked about. Many just assume "kids" won't have readied access to legal online sportsbooks or the funds to bankroll their own accounts. In this day and age, though, it's easy for anyone to partake in sports gambling—regardless of how old they are, and regardless of whether they even live in a state that has legalized sports betting.

This is among the trade-offs the USA is making by opening the sports-betting floodgates. And while skeptics are inclined to use gambling problems as proof that legal sports betting in the United States shouldn't be a priority, it isn't that simple.

People are going to bet on sports no matter the rules. It was already happening rampantly in the United States before legal betting started to catch on—and not just in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Residents got wise to reputable sites that would accept their enrollment and allow them to process transactions. Many of these bookmakers actually appear in our own reviews of the top online sportsbooks. So contrary to what some believe, eradicating legal sports betting won't fix any of the issues facing Wisconsin and other states, including the increase in gambling among the underage population.

This doesn't mean that Wisconsin—or any other state—should ignore this specific dilemma altogether. They shouldn't. It needs to be addressed in both a productive and realistic way. And from the looks of things, it sure seems like Wisconsin is attempting to do just that.

Illegal Sports Betting in Wisconsin on the Rise Among Teens

Officials from the Wisconsin Council of Problem Gaming, a non-profit that's affiliated with the National Council of Problem Gaming, has been open about the increase in underage sports gambling since before the state even officially legalized online betting. They have also been quick to note that this isn't a localized issue. Underage gambling is a problem plaguing the entire country.

The typical legal age for gambling throughout the United States ranges from 18 to 21—and is predominantly 21. According to the National Council of Problem Gaming, however, somewhere between 60 percent and 80 percent of high school students have admitted that they've gambled for money within the past year. Furthermore, the study estimates that between 4 percent and 6 percent of the high school population are "considered addicted to gambling."

These findings are troubling to say the least. They're also tough to avoid. Experts have pointed out that the ease of access to online gambling coupled with a global pandemic that invited even more access to gaming sites have assisted the rise of underage sports wagering. 

Milwaukee Taking Steps to Address Underage Sports Betting

Blanketed solutions do not yet exist for the issue of underage sports betting. There aren't even any strongly endorsed methods of prevention being bandied about the federal government. Milwaukee, however, has a better hold on the issue than many other states. They began preparing and implementing prohibitive measures against underage sports wagering years before they ever legalized betting.

Back in 2015, the Wisconsin Council of Problem Gaming rolled out a 45-minute, free-of-charge gambling prevention class for high schools, according to MarylandMatters.org, a non-profit site that has extensively covered the issue of underage gambling. And just last year, they made a similar video available for virtual schooling. Entering July 2022, "about 16,500 students have seen one or both presentations."

“We were starting to hear and see that the risk for teens with gambling disorder was high,” Rose Blozinski, the executive director for the Wisconsin Council of Problem Gambling, recently told MarylandMatters.org. “We thought it was better to give the information to them sooner rather than later.”

Other states—such as North Carolina, which has tried tackling underage gaming dating back to 2011—have attempted to get a similarly strong hold on this problem. But breakthrough cases are still extremely common. And that begs the question: What can Wisconsin and other states do to limit underage sports gambling in 2022 and beyond?

Potential Addendum to Wisconsin Legal Sports Betting

Prohibiting access to sportsbooks is virtually impossible in the digital age. The best states like Wisconsin can hope to do is limit exposure.

In recent months, a large swathe of experts and Wisconsin state officials have come to believe this begins with policing the amount sportsbooks spend on advertising. Currently, there are no pre-set caps at the federal or state levels. Sportsbooks in Wisconsin and other places are free to spend as much as they want courting new customers.

Hard-capping the amount these companies can throw at advertisements would inherently limit their appearance and, by extension, the exposure of high schoolers to sports betting ads. Preventing sportsbooks from advertising on college campuses, as well as anywhere near high schools and universities, could also help slow this issue. Odds providers will no doubt push back against a proposal such as this, but it beats having their license revoked or taken away, in addition to footing the bill on what we'd assume would be steep fines.

No matter how it's done, though, one thing is clear: Wisconsin needs to keep monitoring and attempting to minimize gambling addiction among teenagers.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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