The Dark Side of Online Gambling and Sports Betting

In a podcast interview with Brian Hatch, Sam Skolnik shares an eye-opening discussion about the gambling industry, its rapid expansion, and the hidden dangers it poses to society.

They discuss the similarities between gambling and tobacco industries, the rise of online gambling, and the urgent need for greater awareness and support for those affected. Check out the summary below or listen to the full podcast episode.

Super Summary

Brian interviews Sam Skolnik, author of High Stakes. They discuss the growth of the gambling industry and its consequences. They deep dive into the increase in online gambling and sports betting, parallels with the tobacco industry, the impact on communities, and the need for greater awareness of gambling addiction. The conversation also highlights the significance of research and critical journalism in addressing the potential dangers of the rapidly expanding gambling sector.

Top 5 Takeaways

  • The expansion of the gambling industry has high societal costs that often outweigh its benefits.
  • Gambling and video games share similarities in targeting young people, leading to addictive behaviors.
  • The rapid growth of online gambling and sports betting raises concerns about its impact on society.
  • The gambling industry shares parallels with the tobacco industry in terms of marketing tactics and influencing research funding.
  • There is a need for increased awareness, research, and support for those affected by gambling addiction.

Brian conversed with Sam Skolnik, the author of High Stakes: The Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction in this episode. For most of his career, Sam was a journalist for various newspapers and legal publications. His interest in the gambling industry began while he was in Seattle. The city had experienced a mini explosion of legalized gambling in the form of new tribal casinos and card rooms.

Sam wrote a three-day front-page series for a Seattle newspaper highlighting the increase in gambling addiction due to the state’s gambling expansion. Later, he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, and continued writing about gambling-related stories while working for the Las Vegas Sun. Eventually, Sam decided to write a book to tell the national story of gambling and its impact on communities across the United States.

The Growth of the Gambling Industry and Its Societal Costs

Brian and Sam discussed the gambling industry’s growth in the past decade, particularly the increase in online gambling and sports betting. A study from the National Gambling Impact Study Commission discovered that the rate of pathological gambling was nearly double within a 50-mile radius of a casino compared to areas outside that radius. With the widespread availability of gambling on smartphones, this number has likely increased even further.

While most people who gamble don’t develop addiction-related issues, Sam argued that the societal costs of gambling often outweigh the benefits. He also acknowledged the libertarian argument that adults should be free to choose their entertainment options. However, he believes that the pro-gambling side overlooks the negative consequences of gambling expansion.

Sam also discussed the similarities between the gambling industry’s marketing tactics and those of the tobacco industry decades ago, specifically in targeting young people. It also includes video games that start as free-to-play but eventually require players to spend money to continue playing, leading to addictive behaviors like gambling.

Parallels between Video Games and Gambling

They continue to discuss the parallels between video games and gambling, as both are often marketed toward children. It’s widespread in countries like Australia and the UK, where various groups have been fighting against this trend. However, in the US, fewer groups are taking up the cause. The gambling industry has a significant influence over research funding, making it difficult for independent studies to be conducted on the addictive nature of gambling. The situation resembles what happened with the tobacco industry 50 years ago when the industry set up shell groups to influence public perception. The gambling industry’s funding of its research creates an apparent conflict of interest.

In many countries with mature gambling markets, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK, studies have shown that a large portion of gambling revenue comes from a small subset of addicted gamblers. It indicates where the industry targets its marketing and how it makes its money. However, in the US, very few studies have been conducted on this topic.

Can casinos revitalize cities?

The expansion of gambling is often sold to the public as a solution to economic problems and a source of jobs, but the promised revitalization of communities doesn’t always happen. A prime example is Detroit, where the introduction of three public casinos was supposed to bring back the city, but nothing like that happened. The gambling industry often makes the same argument in various cities, but the profits primarily go to out-of-state casino owners rather than local communities.

When it comes to the impact on small businesses, the arrival of large casinos can force local establishments like restaurants and cafes to close down as the casinos become the central entertainment hub. While casinos do create jobs, the quality and stability of these jobs are often questionable.

Many of these workers would have found employment in other areas of the community if the casinos didn’t exist.

Brian and Sam Skolnik had an interesting chat about the gambling industry and its impact on people and communities. Over a decade old, Sam’s book still holds some relevant concepts today. They discussed how people in the industry reacted to Sam’s book, with some push back, but also acknowledged that legalized gambling is a bipartisan issue in the US.

The discussion about how different politicians and governments have taken positions on gambling. For example, Andrew Yang, then a candidate for mayor of New York City, has proposed building a mega casino on Governor’s Island to help revitalize the city’s economy after the devastation caused by COVID.

Impacts of Gambling on the society

Brian, who’s had gambling addiction experiences, talks about how he’s not anti-gambling, but he feels that the industry’s approach to responsible gambling can be disingenuous. He also mentioned affordability checks being discussed in the UK. It could potentially prevent people from gambling beyond their means.

Sam shared his thoughts on how the gambling industry has impacted Las Vegas, the most mature region for gambling in the US. He examined the connection between gambling addiction and various social, economic, and criminal indicators. Las Vegas has the highest rates for issues like credit card indebtedness, home foreclosures, bankruptcies, domestic crimes, and even Gamblers Anonymous chapters per capita.

The industry’s reaction to Sam’s findings on Las Vegas was quite telling, with some insiders admitting that they couldn’t argue against the negative effects that gambling has had on the city. It shows that gambling can have significant consequences when it comes into communities.

Overall, it’s clear that the gambling industry is a complex and controversial topic, with many different viewpoints and potential consequences for communities and individuals.

Mixed Reactions to High Stakes

As an author, Sam Skolnik has received a mix of reactions from people in the gambling industry, public officials, and readers. Some sector and public officials have been defensive about the book’s criticisms, often using talking points to deflect from the main issues. However, Sam believes any anger about the situation should be directed more toward the elected officials who defend the industry without considering its downsides. Many readers have found the book helpful, especially those struggling with gambling addiction or who have loved ones dealing with it.

The Rise of Online Gambling and Sports Betting in the US

The rise of online gambling and sports betting in the US has been rapid and surprising. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of operators and the ease of access to gambling. It has increased opportunities for people to gamble, even in places like delis and petrol stations. It has raised concerns about the potential negative impact of gambling on society.

In 2011, the US Department of Justice shut down several online poker sites in an event known as Black Friday. It left many players unable to access their accounts and, in some cases, unable to recover their funds. Since then, there have been efforts to legalize online poker and other casino games state-by-state. Sports betting is the most prominent example so far.

The integration of gambling and sports has become more established. Many sports teams have signed lucrative sponsorship deals with gambling companies. It has led to a shift in attitudes among major sports leagues and their commissioners, who now support gambling as a revenue stream. (Money talks)

Media companies like ESPN and CBS have also begun to produce content centered around sports betting, which raises questions about their ability to cover the negative aspects of gambling impartially.

Despite the author’s hope that the book would raise awareness of the potential dangers of gambling, the rapid expansion of the industry gambling industry is surprising. The visibility of gambling in sports is now more universal than ever. Again, it sparks concerns about gambling’s impact on society. The author argues that citizens must be aware of the potential negative consequences of the gambling expansion and for more critical journalism to cover the issue.

Parallels Between Gambling and Tobacco Industries

Sam Skolnik explains that historically, corruption has been the primary societal force to stop or reverse the spread of legalized gambling. He refers to recent issues in New Jersey, where sportsbooks in casinos have been accused of making it difficult for gamblers to cash out and incentivizing them to keep gambling instead.

Sam Skolnik also discusses self-exclusion programs that allow problem gamblers to sign agreements making it illegal to enter specific gambling establishments. However, a recent investigation in Maryland found that more people than ever are violating the terms of their own casino self-exclusion agreements. The investigation named stress, boredom, and isolation brought on by the pandemic as the main reasons. The pandemic has also led to a rise in lottery ticket sales and an increase in online gambling, which Skolnik considers the most addictive form of gambling.

The discussion touches on the addictive nature of gambling, and Brian shares his experience of being part of a support group for gambling addicts. They also discuss the dangers of cashless gambling, the ease with which people can now gamble through their phones, and the potential negative impacts of new technology on problem gamblers.

Skolnik mentions Natasha Dow Schüll’s book “Addiction by Design“, which focuses on how slot machines have been designed to be as addictive as possible. She suggests that the subtle psychological tricks used by these machines keep players engaged and can lead them to gamble “to extinction”. If you want to know more about how slot machines work, read our guide “Can you Win”.

The conversation emphasizes the importance of addressing the growth of legalized gambling and its potential consequences, as well as the need for a more thoughtful approach to regulation and support for those affected by gambling addiction.

The Need for Greater Awareness and Support

Brian and Sam Skolnik continue to discuss the lack of public awareness around gambling addiction. They discussed the lack of federal funding for gambling addiction, despite the government making billions from gambling-related taxes. Sam pointed out that, at the very least, the government could invest more in research and raising awareness of the issue.

The conversation then touched upon the ripple effect of gambling addiction, affecting not only the gambler but also their friends, family members, and employers. They also highlighted the strong connection between gambling addiction and suicidal ideation, making it a severe and costly issue.

Despite the opioid crisis being a more visible addiction, Sam believes gambling addiction should not be overlooked. He mentioned that as more states become aware of the problem, they are starting to fund their problem gambling groups and offer treatment at minimal or no cost to those affected.

Brian shared his experience with gambling addiction, which eventually led him to file for bankruptcy. He warned listeners to be cautious of promotional offers and stressed the importance of checking the terms and conditions.


The conversation between Brian and Sam Skolnik highlighted the complexity and controversy surrounding the gambling industry. With many different viewpoints and potential consequences for communities and individuals, it is essential to remain vigilant about the potential negative impacts of gambling expansion and to advocate for more research, critical journalism, and support for those affected by gambling addiction.

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