This year’s ESPN Wimbledon coverage included a DraftKings desk. A couple of hosts chattered as if they knew about tennis, but their real message was about placing bets on tennis.
There are plenty of options for those who like to gamble. You’re not limited to betting on whether Djokovic will win or what round Federer will make it to; now you can place what are called proposition bets—or props—such as head-to-head player matchups on who will last longest in the tournament. Or would there be a tie-break in a match or who will serve the most aces. Or the total games played in a match. Or even the winner of an individual game within a set within a match.
Guess what? Several Wimbledon matches are now under investigation for match-fixing. It’s not the big, wealthy stars who are being scrutinized, it’s a couple of the lower-ranked players who barely made the tournament and can’t eke out a living playing their sport. They might be tempted for a better payday.
Sports betting in the U.S. surged after a 2018 Supreme Court ruling paved the way for its legalization beyond the state of Nevada. Another one of those state’s rights cases.
In 2020, sports betting in the U.S. generated record revenue of $1.5 billion in 2020, up 69 percent from the previous year, according to the American Gaming Association. In the first quarter of 2021, sports betting revenues increased 270 percent from last year, another record. The pandemic had a lot to do with that, as many people were confined and bored and all it took was a tap on an app to place a bet and generate a little excitement.
More gambling, more problem gambling. But few federal or state resources are devoted to helping people with gambling addictions.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, told NBC News, “It’s this ticking time bomb. We have to take action now, but the problem is almost impossible to quantify.”
When I was writing Clean Break, I conducted extensive research and personal interviews about gambling. I attended heart-breaking Gambler’s Anonymous meetings, where the afflicted shared their tales of how gambling has ruined their lives.
The result of that research was the character Adam Vanek, who lost his job, his family, and more due to his gambling addiction. Here’s a short scene where Adam is trying to resist the urge:
On the morning he woke up with the urge hurting him the most, he employed the ten-minute strategy he learned at Glendale: put off the decision to gamble for ten minutes. For ten minutes he would do something else, like, like . . . shower for work. That took ten minutes. Now what? Wait ten more minutes before he made the decision to gamble. Fill those ten minutes with . . . get dressed. Now what? Wait ten more minutes before he decided to gamble. Fill those ten minutes with . . . drive to work. Now what? Wait ten more minutes before he decided to gamble. Fill those ten minutes with . . . boot up his computer and see what orders needed to be filled.
Now what? Ten minutes.
Now what? Adam reached that decision point fifty-seven times over the course of the day, and fifty-seven times he found a way to occupy himself for ten more minutes without deciding to gamble. But rather than the urge passing, it became stronger, heavier, more insistent. Tugging at him like a demanding child. The money in his pocket began to itch his leg, right through the fabric of his pants. He scratched his thigh, again and again, so that by the time he dropped his pants to examine the raised red flesh of his leg, he didn’t know if he’d contracted an actual rash or had clawed himself raw.
He’d lasted ten minutes and ten minutes and ten minutes and what difference did it make, it never worked, because there would always be the next ten minutes and he was forced to make the same decision over and over, and that in itself was like placing a bet because every ten minutes there was an equal chance of waiting another ten minutes or doing what he’d set out to do. It was like calling heads or tails. No matter how many times you flipped, no matter how many times you came up with heads, the next flip was just as likely to be a head as it was a tail. There was no getting out in front. Eventually, it flipped the other way. The wrong way. They said the urge eventually passes. When? In another thirty years? Think of those poor souls at GA who’d been attending meetings for fifteen or twenty years and still battled the disease.
Want to read more? Here’s the first chapter of Clean Break. Better yet, the Kindle edition of Clean Break is on sale this month for $5.99. Or get the paperback.