Most adults who bet on sports do so without major negative consequences. But about 1 percent of American adults have a gambling disorder, in which the core symptom is continuing to gamble despite harmful consequences, said Dr. Fong, who is a director of the Gambling Studies Program at U.C.L.A.
A vast majority of those with a serious gambling problem never seek or gain access to treatment, he said.
Studies have shown that sports bettors are typically male, under 35, single, educated and employed or preparing for a career. According to a new survey commissioned by the National Council on Problem Gambling, sports bettors showed significantly higher levels of problematic gambling than other gamblers. The risk of addiction is higher for young adults — specifically sports bettors — than for those of any other age, the survey found.
According to CollegeGambling.org, a subgroup of the International Center for Responsible Gaming, 6 percent of college students in the United States have a serious gambling problem that can lead to psychological difficulties, unmanageable debt and failing grades.
Young adults are at particular risk for developing a gambling problem, especially if there is a family history of gambling or if they are introduced to it at a young age, Dr. Fong said. The increased accessibility of online gambling may accelerate the development of problems, he said — a phenomenon known as telescoping.
As sports betting has grown — household names like FanDuel and DraftKings now offer legal avenues — the need for recovery programs and dedicated treatment facilities has quickly outpaced their availability, recovery experts said. Rick Benson, the founder of the Algamus Gambling Recovery Center in Arizona, said the number of young adults who have sought treatment for gambling problems has more than doubled in the past two years.
Sex, drugs and alcohol are commonly covered in school and in the coming-of-age conversations that parents have with their children, but discussions about the consequences of gambling are rare, former gamblers and experts said. This can lead young people to underestimate the addictive nature of sports betting and other forms of gambling. Warnings, often in small fonts, that caution visitors to online sports books and gambling websites about the risks of addiction are easily overlooked.