A Review of Sports Wagering: Prevalence, Characteristics of Sports Bettors, and Association with Problem Gambling

Research and Data
Author(s): Ken C. Winters and Jeffrey L. Derevensky
Year Published: 2019


This literature reviewed 127 research articles to provide a description of our current knowledge of sports gambling behavior among adults, adolescents, and athletes, including prevalence rates and factors associated with problem gambling sports bettors.


Quantitative Data Highlights

  • 1% of individuals who gamble report experiencing a serious gambling problem at some time in their lives (e.g., gambling disorder), with an additional 2%– 3% having experienced somewhat less severe gambling problems.
  • 45% of individuals have placed a bet on a sporting event at least once in their lives.
  • 20% of U.S. adults reported sports betting in the prior 12 months.
  • 13% of former high school and college athletes from Colorado and Connecticut reported gambling-related problems.
  • 47% of sports bettors bet with a friend on a sporting event.
Mobile Device Sports Betting
  • Two comparable studies found that:
    • 22% of mobile device bettors reported problem gambling (versus 18% offline and 16% using PC).
    • 25% Of bettors who preferred mobile gambling, reported problem gambling (versus 18% of those laptop gambling and 11% of those land-based gambling).
Fantasy Sports
  • 95% of DFS gamblers also engage in other forms of gambling activities are identified as high-risk problem gamblers.
  • 94% of individuals reporting problem gambling were fantasy sports gamblers.
  • 62% of individuals reporting at-risk gambling were fantasy sports gamblers.
  • 4% of New Jersey residents engage in DFS. Of these DFS gamblers 61% are between the ages of 25 and 34, 62% are married or living with a partner, and 46% have a college or postgraduate degree.
  • 2x the likelihood of reporting at-risk gambling for those who bet more than once a month on DFS.
  • 98% of online problem gambling sports betters (PGSBs) were males.
  • 32% of those classified as PGSBs were women from a study in Spain.
  • 13% of male and <1% of female college students gambled on fantasy leagues in the prior year.
  • 48% of males and 25% of females who were fee-based fantasy sport players were identified as at-risk or pathological gamblers.
  • 37% of a Minnesota adolescents reported prior-year sports gambling.
  • 30% of a Montreal adolescents reported prior-year sports gambling.
  • 7.3% and 5.1% of Ohio high school students reported wagering money on fantasy sports and DFS respectively, at least once in their lifetimes.
College Students
  • 75%–80% of college students report having gambled in general within the past year.
  • 5x more likely to report at least 1 DSM-5 criteria for problem gambling among college students who engaged in fantasy sports (whether or not for money).
  • 7% to 15% (based on different studies) are the rates of college student athletes reporting problem or disordered gambling, which is higher than the general population.
  • 49% of intramural and 31 % of Division I athletes play fantasy sports for money (compared with 13% of non-athletes).


Identified Risk Factors

  • Identifying as male.
  • Being young (young adults to approximately age 35).
  • Not married.
  • High level of education.
  • Full-time studying or working full time in managerial or professional occupations.
  • Earning above average salary.
  • Engage in poly-gambling.
  • Have significant others and peers who also favor sports betting.
  • Frequent user of multiple online accounts with different operators.
  • Frequent use of multiple types of promotions.
  • Show more impulsive responses to betting opportunities.


Qualitative Data Highlights

  • Gamblers who engage in games of skill overestimate their personal ability to win.
  • Individuals reporting problem gambling were disproportionately involved in sports betting (among other games) compared with non-problem social and recreational gamblers.
Characteristics of typical sports gamblers
  • They are male, younger, and unmarried.
  • They have peers who gamble on sports.
  • They have a perception and belief that they are knowledgeable about sports.
  • They have an increased likelihood of substance use (alcohol and drugs).
  • They engage in multiple forms of gambling.
  • Online sports bettors and sports fantasy gamblers in particular (and offline-based sports bettors to a lesser degree), perceive their gambling as more determined by their own skills, knowledge, and analysis and less by chance or luck.
    • This pattern aligns with the common profile that sports gamblers are likely to be highly educated and tech-savvy
Co-Occurring Disorders
  • There is an increased likelihood of alcohol or illicit drug use while gambling compared with that for non-PGSBs.
  • Sports wagering in private increasing the ease of substance use while gambling, which may negatively impact on decision making.
  • Frequent gamblers report higher rates of psychological distress and mental health issues compared with non-frequent gamblers.
    • This suggests that gambling is used as a way to cope with negative mood states.
  • Market research of sports bettors suggest that the target group for promotional and advertising campaigns is young, single, upwardly mobile, professional, and tech-savvy young men.
  • Where sport wagering is legal, it is heavily marketed to young males.
  • The two largest DFS operators spent nearly $206 million dollars on advertising in 2015.
  • “Sports fandom’’ features (e.g., identification with a team; wagering on real games) increase the vulnerability of participants to the promotions and marketing strategies of fantasy gambling products.
  • Online sports gamblers made greater and had higher financial debts sooner than off-line gamblers.
In-Play/ Live Action
  • Risk of problem gambling was also found to increase with greater in-play live-action betting.
  • Among those who bet on micro events, 78% were considered problem gamblers.
Fantasy Sports
  • Participation in fantasy sports was associated with frequent watching of live sports, sports wagering on real games, in-play betting, and identification with a team.
  • Daily fantasy gamblers believe that their participation is more about skill than chance.
  • Young men in particular are increasingly seeking treatment for difficulties in controlling their online sports betting.
  • Females consistently report lower levels of sports betting than males do.


Identified Conclusions

  • Marketing promotions may have specific effects on individuals reporting problem gambling.
  • Jurisdictions that permit legal sports betting have valid concerns about a growing culture of high-risk sports bettors.


Identified Recommendations

  • There needs to be a longitudinal study to identify the links between sports betting and problem gambling, and the presence of individual and technology- based risk factors (i.e. does banning micro-event gambling reduce the risk of developing a gambling problem?)
  • Research whether or not responsible gambling messaging is effective in reducing high-risk gambling behaviors.
  • Research on individuals reporting problem gambling is needed to identify the optimal prevention to:
    • Discourage engagement in high-risk sports betting, such as micro-betting.
    • Help them avoid sports betting promotions (i.e. sign-up bonuses and “free” bets).
    • Challenge their beliefs that one can regularly earn money from sports gambling.
  • Additional research is recommended for:
    • Methodological designs that isolate problem behaviors associated with sports betting from possible links to other forms of gambling.
    • Research that delves deeper than the previous literature did into psychological, social, and cultural variables linked to sports betting.
    • Examination of the origins and extent of sports betting by children and adolescents.
    • Exploration of the differential influences of possible functional values of gambling behavior (e.g., coping-based, escape-based).
    • Examination of the impact on sports betting involvement as a function of major league sports leagues and professional teams partnering with gambling operators and casinos.
    • Examination of the impact of new sports wagering television and radio shows and advertisements on gambling behavior, as well as the role that government can play in regulating the promotion of sports betting.
    • Treatment research that includes the role of co-occurring disorders and the strategies to address the risk factors of problem gambling (i.e. impulsive betting patterns) that can compromise treatment.
  • Interventions should target young adult males and consider higher education and income levels.


Read Full Research Article


Winters, Ken & Derevensky, Jeffrey. (2019). A Review of Sports Wagering: Prevalence, Characteristics of Sports Bettors, and Association with Problem Gambling. Journal of Gambling Issues. 43. 10.4309/jgi.2019.43.7.

Further Reading