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Don’t Gamble Away Your Family: How Sports Betting Has Impacted New Yorker’s Family Relationships

Gambling on sporting events was taken over by New York organized crime in the mid-20th century. If you wanted to place a bet on sports, you had to contact a bookmaker, today called a bookie. The dictionary definition of “bookie” is “a person or organization that accepts and pays off bets on sporting and other events at agreed-upon odds”. Prior to casinos in New York receiving approval to accept sports bets (July 2019), the only way to place a bet was with a bookie. The bookie would give you the odds on a game, and you would tell the bookie how much you wanted to bet. While it sounds simple and innocuous, that was far from the case.

Apart from the most obvious reason that made sports gambling dangerous—sports gambling was illegal and therefore deterred many from contacting bookies—you also did not have to put money upfront to place your wager, leading many to place bets with money they did not have. Coupled with the fact that many individuals did not have a connection with a bookie, and those that did had to meet weekly to settle their bets or face the consequences, led many to keep their distance from bookies and sports gambling.

However, this is much different from the sports gambling landscape we have today. So, how did we get here?

In 2019, New York State awarded sports gambling licenses to casinos, opening the floodgates to the billion-dollar sports gambling industry and the tax revenue that goes along with it. Individuals who would have previously stayed away from betting on sports now flocked to casinos, including women, the elderly, students over the age of 21, businesspeople and executives, individuals on public assistance or social security, and many more. If you walked into a casino sports book, there would be lines of individuals waiting to place a bet, along with 10 to 20 clerks to accept those bets, and computerized kiosks to place your bets. New York State was collecting a large sum of taxes from the casinos, so what could they do to get more revenue? It was only natural for the State’s Gaming Commission to give companies like Caesars Sportsbook, Draft Kings, and FanDuel the greenlight to start accepting bets from smartphone apps.

However, despite all the fanfare, many of the negatives that come with gambling have started to rear their ugly heads, as many relationships are now thrust into jeopardy with easy access to online and smartphone sports betting.

Remember, the Deck is Stacked Against You

While the issues surrounding sports gambling, and the effects it has on relationships have yet to be fully understood or acknowledged by the mainstream, two of the biggest contributors to its devastating and widespread impact are the ease and secrecy with which you can place your bets.

Many individuals seem to have forgotten that now you can bet without going to a casino or calling a bookie. Before, you would have to physically show up to a casino and visit an ATM for cash to place your bet. Nowadays, with a few taps, you can bet all day and night on your favorite teams from the comfort and secrecy of your own home, work, or bar, making it easy to play off a loss and hide it from a potentially disgruntled spouse. Coupled with the prevalence of mobile banking, you can easily transfer money into a betting account whenever you get low on funds, making those “it’s just a few dollars” bets that you need to make up your losses all the more tempting and dangerous. Whether it is the cognitive bias of not being physically tied to your bet or not, many people—even those without a history of gambling issues—have been sucked into this new easy way to “get in on the action.”

How Betting Becomes a Family Problem

Family and relationship problems tend to arise when there are additional addictive habits involved with the gambler, whether it be a competitive or stubborn nature or a more “traditional addiction” in the sense of alcohol or drug dependency. To speak on the former, I have seen cases prior to mobile sports betting where addictive gambling tendencies have led to issues of domestic violence or child neglect. With mobile access, what’s to stop the old and new generations of gamblers from sitting at home on a Saturday or Sunday, holidays, or any day tracking their bets, rather than spending time with their spouse, children, or family? Even outside of traditional win or loss bets, these online betting site companies have successfully gamified the entire sporting match, allowing people to bet on every minute of the action, even after the game has started. These are perfect ways to trap bettors and keep them thinking about the ongoing game/season rather than just on their occasional trip to the casino.

Additionally, some individuals may choose to indulge in either alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs during these matches, which can impair their judgments when it comes to placing their bets, the amount of the bet, as well as the frequency with which they choose to place them. This can be a volatile, downward spiral, as any family lawyer can tell you. When it comes to issues of finances and alcohol and drug usage in a marriage or family, emotions tend to run high. If a partner is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs and places obnoxiously large bets or loses said bets and takes out their frustrations on their partner and children, they will have a difficult time maintaining any future relationship with their families and will most likely lose their family as well as face criminal charges.

Regardless, sports gambling in New York State may soon become one of the most common reasons we see for family and matrimonial issues, bankruptcy, criminal matters, and child and spousal abuse.

Play Your Cards Right and Keep Your Family

With the advent of the multiple promotions online betting sites have run, and with two of the biggest sporting events of the year (i.e., the World Series and the Super Bowl) approaching, I expect many individuals’ luck may soon run out as they play more and more with “house money.” Judging from the fact that New York, in its first three months of allowing mobile betting, set a record-breaking $3.1 billion worth of bets and grossed over $204.6 million in gaming revenue, the State is in no rush to reeducate or acknowledge the fact that this new wave of mobile sports betting is just as addictive and potentially dangerous as it was before.

While gambling in moderation can be an appropriate way to engage with your favorite team/sport, it is when it is done in excess (i.e., betting with money you don’t have, ignoring responsibilities to bet on/watch games, etc.) or when the results of those bets start to manifest themselves (i.e., domestic abuse, child neglect, etc.) that issues arise. Should you—or someone you know—struggle with moderation when it comes to sports gambling or your partner’s gambling habits, it may be worth having a discussion with them or legal counsel to best protect your future and family.

For years, Michael has been relentlessly fighting for the rights of Capital Region spouses, parents, and grandparents in virtually every aspect of family and matrimonial law. As a Partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC, Michael provides representation in matters relating to divorce, parental alienation, separation agreements, annulments, child custody, child support, modifications to child support and child custody, enforcement of divorce decrees, spousal maintenance, pre-and post-nuptial agreements, orders of protection and family offenses. He can be reached at or at (888-529-4543).

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