The regular session of the Alabama Legislature begins Tuesday. One of the first topics of debate is sure to be the expansion of gambling. Though the creation of a state lottery has been discussed on and off for decades, the 2024 proposal promises not only a state sponsored and condoned lottery but it also legalizes brick and mortar casinos in every corner of the state and legalizes the most addictive form of gambling of all: digital sports betting.

With sports betting as a component of gambling legalization legislation, any attempted claim that the proposal will curtail or minimize gambling is demonstrably false since online gambling — on sports or anything else — would turn every computer, smartphone, and digital device in the state into a portable casino. Legalizing sports betting would put state-sponsored gambling in 1.5 million pockets and in every single living room in Alabama.  

States that have legalized gambling experience higher rates of gambling addiction, crime, corruption, addiction, and mental health disorders. With more opportunities to gamble, the negative impact of gambling increases. That is especially true for sports betting as gambling on sports has been normalized for children and adolescents through the prior legalization of fantasy games and the proliferation of advertisements for sports gambling nationwide; early and increased exposure to gambling leads to increases in addiction that can cause financial hardship, emotional damage, and ruined lives. Digital gambling has long been considered more addictive than conventional gambling and the rate of suicide skyrockets with the increase of problem gamblers. One in five problem gamblers attempt suicide.

"60 Minutes" ran a piece highlighting sports betting as a national mental heath crisis last night. The segment clearly illustrated that, in 2024, digital sports betting is not traditional game-day betting on the score of a game. 60 Minutes explained that micro-betting as the practice of betting within a game and even within a play in real-time; sportsbooks use algorithms powered by AI to refresh odds constantly so there is no ability for bettors to calculate whether they're making a good or bad bet. This new type of lightning-fast sports betting is, by definition, a game of chance rather than skill. In addition, the operators use personal data from the gambler's device to drive their addictive behaviors through push notifications and tailored advertisements. 

Increased addictive behaviors and the toll on mental health due to sports betting, especially among young men, is difficult to quantify because it is increasing so quickly but it is clear that America has a serious gambling addiction problem and it is getting worse by the day.

As for Alabama, why would we want to invite the growing problem of sports betting into a state with such a strong history of national championships and sporting excellence? Alabama has so much to be proud of in the sports arena. However, NCAA violations regarding sports betting have been documented within the state even this year and player arrests have been made with allegations of betting on SEC games they participated in. Let's not tarnish college sports in Alabama by allowing out-of-state gambling operators to ruin our legacy for their profit.

There is no question that legalizing sports betting would be detrimental to our state and her citizens, especially our young men. Suggesting that the culture is changing and that the dangerous issue of legalizing sports betting should be “left up to the voters” is not an appropriate response for any legislator. Where there are more opportunities to gamble, higher rates of addiction and negative societal impacts always follow. Sports betting isn't a fair wager, and it's a bad bet for Alabama sports and Alabama families.

Stephanie Holden Smith is the president/CEO of Alabama Policy Institute.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected] 

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