When Julian Katz placed his last bet in 2013, the gambling world was a lot more complicated. To wager on a big game, Katz had to go through a bookie who held his funds in an offshore bank account, skirting the laws that then banned digital gambling in most of the country, including Pennsylvania.
Today, user-friendly instant sports-betting apps are ubiquitous. Katz has sworn he will never download them — but that’s easier said than done.
Amid an onslaught of advertising from betting apps — dubbed “casinos in your pocket” by gambling recovery experts — Katz said he struggles with temptation whenever he watches a Sixers or Eagles game, or most sports for that matter.
“Around the NFL playoffs, it’s really bad for me,” Katz said. “March Madness, really bad. The advertisements, the marketing that these online casinos do, they throw it in our faces.”
The 36-year-old Philadelphian is hardly alone. A nearly $2 billion-a-year nationwide marketing blitz for sports-betting apps — triggered by a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized online gaming and brought it to Pennsylvania — is sparking a crisis for a new generation of people with gambling problems bombarded by TV and internet ads, even billboards.
As the Eagles aim for the Super Bowl, recovery programs in the Philadelphia region are filled with clients struggling to avoid betting apps, according to clinicians. They say most are young men overwhelmed by the ads that interrupt games and pop up constantly on their phones — often for misleading “no sweat bets” that promise lost money back while encouraging more in-app gambling.
“Gambling disorder was recognized as a full-fledged addiction back in 2013, on the same level as heroin and opioid usage,” said Harry Levant, who previously had a gambling problem and is now a therapist with Ethos Treatment working with others in recovery. “When you have nonstop instant access to an addictive product, people are going to get hurt.”
Sports gambling’s legalization has brought an influx of advertising dollars, according to Eric Webber, a senior counselor at Caron Treatment Centers who works with Pennsylvania-based problem gamblers.
Nationwide, the gaming industry spent about $15.5 million on advertising in 2019, according to Webber.
By 2022, the industry was spendingan estimated $1.8 billion on gambling ads nationwide.
“Anyone with a phone, laptop, and a computer — everybody’s being affected by it,” Webber said.