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Author Topic: Are Fantasy Sports Addictive?  (Read 2599 times)

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Are Fantasy Sports Addictive?
« on: September 01, 2016, 02:49:54 PM »
by Janet Cromley on January 20, 2015 in Gambling Addiction

Fantasy sports give fans the best of both worlds. Even if your favorite football team stinks every year you can still hand-pick a team from across the league, with fantasy winners like New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., or New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Prefer basketball? Just recruit players like Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden or Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. Most of the time, fantasy sports are all in good fun. But do some participants love the action a little too much?


In 2014, an estimated 41.5 million fantasy sports fans in the U.S. and Canada spent an average of $111 each on league costs, games and materials. (That’s up from a mere half-million in 1988, and roughly double the number of players in 2007.) Most are having harmless fun, but the sheer size of these numbers presents a potential problem: A very small, but meaningful, percentage of those who start playing fantasy sports will sink a disproportionate amount of time, energy and money into fantasy sports betting. Simply put, they are unable to stop and may be at risk for developing a more-serious problem with sports betting or other types of gambling. By conservative estimates, about 2% to 3% of the U.S. population has either a diagnosable gambling problem or a tendency to over-gamble. With so many fantasy sports fans, that’s a lot of at-risk players.

To be sure, the person most at risk for compulsive gambling is not the casual recreational player of fantasy sports. “The profile of a person with a gambling addiction is someone who is drawn to various forms of gambling, who struggles with depression and anxiety and who is impulsive,” says Timothy Fong, MD, co-director of UCLA’s Gambling Studies Program, in Los Angeles. “This person gambles not for entertainment; there’s a deeper, compulsive quality to it.  Someone with a gambling addiction can easily spend hundreds of dollars a day on fantasy sports, and in those cases, Fong says, “it looks no different than a drug addiction; it’s just a matter of time before it catches up with you.”

Compounding the problem is the fact that daily fantasy sports participation is a mouse-click away. That’s because the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act of 2006, which was enacted to curtail online gambling, specifically excludes fantasy sports, reasoning that these are games of skill rather than games of chance. Fantasy sports, where participants build their own team roster from a pool of names of real players and compete based on how their athletes actually perform statistically during the season, has been around since World War II, but it really took off in the 1980s. Early fantasy sports were paper-and-pencil affairs, with participants calculating their own statistics. Today, it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry, with a U.S. market share of $1.71 billion in league fees alone, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Although football, basketball and baseball are among the most popular fantasy sports, there are leagues for just about every sport, including cricket, surfing and mixed martial arts.

Authorities in the field of compulsive gambling say they aren’t seeing a deluge of fantasy sports participants with compulsive gambling problems, but they are concerned, especially given the rise of easy online play. “Even though fantasy sports have been available for some time, they have not been available in the game-by-game format or the level of winnings being currently offered,” says Loreen Rugle, PhD, program director at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling. “It is like when a casino opens; it often takes a year to two for problems to develop in nearby communities.” Adds Rugle, “only recently have fantasy sports been aggressively marketed through major league sports, on major television networks and on websites.”

Fong, who is also director of UCLA’s Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship program, is in a unique position to identify trends in gambling behavior. He’s particularly concerned about a newer kind of betting. “In the last two years,” he says, “we’ve seen the emergence of same-day fantasy sports betting, where for that day you create your team and go up against others. It looks like a combination of sports betting, the lottery and poker. There are jackpots and the spirit of competition, all of which can attract a gambler’s attention.”

Although there’s scant research on the relationship between fantasy sports participation and compulsive gambling, scientists appear to have found an association. In a study in the journal Addictive Behaviors, Ryan Martin, PhD, an assistant professor at East Carolina’s department of health education and promotion, and Sarah Nelson, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, analyzed fantasy sports participation via an online survey of 1,556 college students. They found that male students who participated in fantasy sports — particularly those who bet for money — had higher rates of gambling-related problems than did non-participants. They also found that females who played fantasy sports were much likelier to have gambling-related problems than those who didn’t play, regardless of whether they played for money.

For avid fantasy participants who are skittering on the edge of obsession, Fong has some advice. “Fantasy sports are meant to be fun and recreational,” he says. “If you have any ambivalence or doubt about what you’re doing, or if you’re hiding what you’re doing, that’s probably a sign that you need to take a hard look at your gambling. Most people with a gambling or betting problem already kind of know it.” For more information on problem gambling, Fong suggests checking out the state of California’s site for problem gambling or go to Addiction.com’s Gambling Addiction section.

 

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