Feeling Lucky (or Manipulated)?

Noah Cicurel

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2022

Sports betting is now just as easy as opening up an app and playing a game on your phone. But should it?

Of course not. Sports gambling, with the potential to waste away thousands of dollars, should feel more like gambling at a casino than making a few clicks on a phone.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) effectively outlawed sports betting nationwide. However, in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Supreme Court struct down PASPA, launching the phrenzy towards nationwide legalization. Sports betting is fully legal and operational in 18 states in addition to Washington D.C. with the possibility of 13 more states joining the national trend by the end of 2021.

In June 2019, Governor Pritzker signed the Sports Wagering Act into law, ushering in legal sports gambling in Illinois. The law initially required users to submit applications for sports wagering services in person. However, due to the pandemic Governor Pritzker issued several Executive Orders suspending this requirement through at least November 14. With the pandemic still in full swing, there is little reason why this suspension will not be extended again.

Sports Wagering Act

Prior to the law’s enactment, the Illinois Attorney General accused popular betting sites FanDuels and DraftKings of illegally operating within the state. While the companies were not found guilty of the allegation, illegal online gambling has been a prevalent issue for years with other off-shore online betting websites seeking to infiltrate the American market.

The Act allows for the Illinois Gaming Board, the regulatory body over the industry, to issue Master Sports Wagering licenses, which enable the gambling operation. There are currently ten casinos in Illinois now eligible for the license, in addition to five online sportsbooks. While licensees are required to provide statements warning of gambling addiction, establish a voluntary self-exclusion system, and inform users about changes to the system, the new industry is riddled with issues. Notably, the Governor’s Executive Order allows individuals to sign up for an online account with only a name and last four digits of a social security number. Anyone under the age of 21 with access to his or her parent’s information could fall victim to gambling industry.

In the first three months of the shutdown, the state lost $200 million in gambling tax revenue from casinos and slow lottery ticket sales. The Executive Order sought to increase the tax revenue from the newly legalized sports betting market. While promoting the Casino industry at a time when revenue is down due to the coronavirus, the Governor’s actions are another step making gambling feel less like gambling. Without in-person registration, entering the legal gambling market is no different than downloading and registering an account for any other app.

Gambling has never been more accessible

With sports betting now legalized, there has been a recent surge in gambling with approximately 15% of Americans gambling at least once a week. Illinois leads the nation with the most gambling related arrests per capita and over 2% of adults in the state demonstrate a gambling disorder. In August, 90% of all sports bets were placed online.

Popular betting websites like FanDuels and DraftKings often advertise during games, promoting free points and wagers, without disclosing the impracticality or implications of winning. These advertisements, placing bets with actual money on a phone, all play into normalizing gambling.

Tackling the problem

The problems with online gambling are eerily similar to the issues with “bait apps.” Nicknamed after the “bait-and-switch” tactic to deceive consumers, large tech companies including Google and Apple have faced several class action lawsuits over these gaming apps. The apps are often free or cheap to download but lure users, often children, to make in-app purchases. One parent complained to Facebook after her child paid over $6,500 in games. Google and Apple have tried to prevent unwanted purchases by adding additional passwords and settings disabling this function.

In order to prevent further harm, the Illinois Gaming Board needs to take direct action and curtail the user-friendliness of these online sportsbooks. Currently, sport wagering operators require users to input a password before using the app. Like bait apps, their system needs to be more difficult to wager away thousands of dollars.