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May 23, 2023

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 120

My Teen Is into Sports Betting. Help!

Episode 120

With online betting now legal in most states, sports coverage is increasingly saturated with commentary focussed on betting and ads for gambling apps. Teens are noticing – and some of them are getting in on the action. It’s increasingly easy and common for teens to bet on sports and, at times, to lose large sums of money. Dr. Lisa and Reena address how teens find ways to place bets, why they want to, and what parents and caregivers need to know if they have a teen who might be interested in sports betting. Dr. Lisa lays out the psychological science explaining why gambling can be addictive and offers guidance on how to talk with teens about the potential dangers of sports betting.

May 23, 2023 | 32 min

Transcript | My Teen Is into Sports Betting. Help!

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 120: My Teen Is into Sports Betting. Help!

The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

The following transcript has been automatically generated by an AI system and should be used for informational purposes only. We cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided.

——

Reena Ninan
Well, it is that time of year where all I can think about is a potential vacation. I don’t care: day trip a weekend trip week long trip. I am ready.

Lisa Damour
Reena, me too. I am just counting down the days till summer.

Reena Ninan
And one thing I have to say that you flagged early on the season before we ended the season, you wanted to do an episode on sports betting.

Lisa Damour
Yeah. This is fascinating and to be honest, Reena, worrisome for me.

Reena Ninan
Yeah, you really flagged I want to get right into it because I did not think this was an issue. But now I see why you wanted to do this. Here’s the letter we got. Dear Lisa, and Reena, our 16 year old son is caught up in sports betting he’s a good kid who makes his own money by working at a restaurant near our home, we figured out that something was up when we saw he was using Venmo to pay a college student who’s a friend’s older brother and who it turns out is a bookie. We asked her son about what was going on. And he got really defensive and insisted that all the guys he hangs out with bet on sports, and that it’s not really a big deal. And that he has it under control. We don’t know how to react, we suspect that this is where most of his paycheck is going. And that he doesn’t really get how serious and dangerous gambling can be. What should we do? Is this really commonly? So that was my first question to you when you’re like this is happening and we need to do an episode?

Lisa Damour
Well, Reena, okay, I had the same reaction when I started to hear about online betting, and sports betting and adolescence and started to have friends with teenage sons say like, this is an issue. This is an issue. I was like, What What are you talking about? And so then, of course, once I hear that something’s happening, I start to like, look for it and notice it, listen for it. So one thing that has happened in sort of the broader universe is that, you know, gambling has been made legal in most places. I don’t know the laws inside and out. But you know, in I think it was, it was a key Supreme Court decision that legalized gambling in lots of places. And then what has emerged are all of these online betting platforms that are basically apps and you hear you know, FanDuel is one that people use a lot. DraftKings is one that you use a lot people use. But what’s really fascinating to me in terms of just like the shift in the universe around sports, is that now, so much of the sports commentary on conventional programming, like conventional sports commentary, is organized around thinking about if one has bets on this game, right that so much of the commentary is now about, like how many points this player should be still getting in this game, or what the line is on this game. And so it’s really shifted the whole discourse, the ease and availability of betting legally, and we’ll get to the illegal side of it legally. For people who are interested in sports, it is now thoroughly saturated with betting. And so not only is the commentary very centered on betting, but then the ads between the commentaries are on DraftKings ads, FanDuel ads, like there’s all of this stuff. And so, you know, just back to that thing that we were talking about earlier, when we’re talking about tick tock and social media norms, right in terms of norms, betting on sports, for people who follow sports, is now becoming a highly normed behavior in a way that has not always been the case.

Reena Ninan
And just like technology, when we do that episode, looking at technology, it’s if it’s normal, then your your, your perspective, kind of can get shifted or skewed somehow.

Lisa Damour
Yeah, it just seems like the kind of thing one does, okay. And like if adults want to bet on sports, that’s, you know, that’s above my paygrade, not our department. There’s still worries about addiction. And I want to get into the mechanics of that, because how we understand that as psychologists is something everyone should know. But, you know, there certainly, I think can be quite enjoyable aspects of it. And it was funny really, when I realized this was happening, I started asking everyone I could find about, you know, what’s the what’s the story? What’s the story? And I was in Washington, DC, and I had this fabulous Uber driver. This guy was great. And he was in his mid 30s. And he worked as a trucker the rest of the time. And I said, do you bet on sports? And he’s like, Oh, yeah. And so at the stoplight, he got out his phone and showed me his FanDuel account. And he this guy was fantastic. And he said, No, I’m very careful with the money, I make plenty. And I said, So what’s in it for you? Like, what? What do you do? And he said, I mean, like, you could just feel him like just vibrating with, like, the pleasure of describing this to me, he was like, it is so much more fun to watch sports with my buddies. When we all have 10 box on you know, something, and we’re watching the game. And you’re like, it just changes the dynamic completely, it takes it up several notches. If you lose 10 bucks, you lose 10 bucks, but you’ve had so much more fun. You’re rooting for players, you usually ignore you’re rooting for teams you hadn’t cared about before. And like to hear this guy describe it. I was like, I get it, I get it. Right. So so that’s it work here, which is, it’s super fun. And it takes something that is already fun for a lot, let’s we’ll just sort of assume this as largely boys. You know, watching sports is already fun for a lot of boys, it takes it and then it just takes it up all these notches.

Reena Ninan
It’s like being on some super drug or somthing.

Lisa Damour
It is, It is. it just like puts it all into Technicolor and. And it was interesting, because I was thinking about this guy thinking about this guy. And I was like, you know, for 10 bucks. If it is so thrilling and so compelling, and takes what you are already going to do, which is sit around and watch the game with your friends, and make it that much more interesting. Like, I see why that might be a really, really something to do I get it, I get it.

Reena Ninan
So I want to bring it back to the kids, I get that the adult is into it right? And you’ve completely made me understand how guys can get into this. When our kids really using bookies, are you really saying that?

Lisa Damour
Well, so then the next thing that happened after I was like, kind of almost feel like you know, your scales caught fall away, somebody shows you something new. So as I became interested in it, then I was like put what about the teenagers? Like Is that for real? Like, is that actually a real thing? So I was at a co ed school, speaking to the entire high school and had a wonderful conversation with them. And we got onto the topic of social media. And there was a reason for me into Scott in describing social media. And we’ll come to this to talk about intermittent reinforcement schedules, which is really the psychological principle that understands underpins gambling. And I said in this kind of offhanded way, I was like, This is why gambling is addictive. And Reena, this like surge as ripple of energy went through the high school boys like there was just like this, like, as soon as I said, this is why gambling is addictive. Like I could just see right in front of me. They were all like the seniors, especially right in front of me. There’s like this. Yeah, like it was like this. They weren’t they weren’t like, oh, no, they were like, yeah, like and it was like so stark. To see how like quickly they all looked at each other with knowing looks looked at each other with excitement. And I was like, okay.

Reena Ninan
They get it, they understand what’s happening.

Lisa Damour
They’re interested in this. And they’re doing it right. Which is of course not to say that every boy in front of me was doing it. But it was just one of those. It wasn’t entirely accidental that I sort of, like threw out the word like yeah, this is why again, like deductive just I wanted to see what they would do. And what they did was far beyond what I expected. Okay, at which point I started asking, I started asking anyone I could about high schoolers, teenage boys. Because the key in this arena, is that gambling is not legal in most states until age 21. There’s a few states where it’s legal at 19 and 18.

Reena Ninan
Well, the Kentucky Derby I was reading when we’re doing research for this, you will have to be 18 which, okay, it’s a fun event, social event, great, you should be able to put down some money on a horse, why not?

Lisa Damour
Okay, so you only have to be 18. So you could be a high school, senior, you could be a college freshman. Now the other thing that happens at 18 Right now, you can get a credit card at 18. And now that we have these online platforms, there’s so little friction. So I will tell you the nightmare scenario. And I think that there are examples of this that are out there. The nightmare scenario is a kid who is in a state where it’s legal at 18 and has access to a credit card gets on FanDuel or DraftKings and gets themselves into horrendous debt. And they do it all. Legally. It is 100% legal, right? I mean, like, and that is the nightmare scenario. Now, most states is not 18 Most kids don’t have credit cards. And so then I started asking and actually I will tell you I don’t often get released. surprised. But what I was surprised to learn is that it is not at all unusual. And it’s been going on for years, that there are kids who set up websites where they basically serve as bookies. So there’s like fantasy football stuff that’s gone on forever and ever. Were kids may have a little money in it. But it also becomes vastly more elaborated than that, where kids find someone and I think it often is like a slightly older kid, maybe somebody sibling, where you send in your information, and they they run a book online, and kids are putting money down, they are owing money. They are, you know, getting themselves into a bad spot because they can place a bet without actually having the cash. And so then if they lose the money, they have to cough it up. And what I heard from the teenage boys I was asking about this, is that the boys I talked to, they’re like, No, you don’t do that, or you’re smart about it, you only put up what you have. But they all had stories of kids who have gotten themselves in a jam, or who were like, I will get the money to you. But it comes with my next paycheck. And so by the time they get their paycheck, they have already lost all of it to gambling. So there are lots of ways for this to get out of control.

Reena Ninan
Lisa, I know that there’s you know, state to state I believe now according to some of the research we were looking at there 36 states plus DC that have actually made it legal for sports betting and it’s a $2.5 billion business in revenue a year. So there is big money in all of this. But you we talked a little bit about how teens can legally access online sports betting. But can they also do it illegally? Like you never want your child have a criminal record before they go off to college? Well, you never want to want to have one period. But you know is… How worried should parents be about this? I guess?

Lisa Damour
Well, there are illegal ways for kids to do this, you know, so I’m sure it’s not kosher. For the book that, you know, the, you know, older kid is running and you know, basically making it possible for 16 year olds to that, you know, that’s been going on, I’m sure somewhere that is not entirely within the law. But there are ways and this is worrisome. You know, where kids can fake their age, you know, and it may be because when if you go on to FanDuel and sign up, you will ask your birthday, it’ll ask where what’s what state you’re in, and then it will start to ask for things like your social security number, right? I mean, there’s a you know, it’s it’s verifying age. So, you know, kids could rifle through the family files and get, you know, a siblings, older siblings social security number and verify themselves, and, you know, create all sorts of trouble that way. You know, kids have, you know, they’re very resourceful, I wouldn’t at all put it past a very, you know, invested teenager to figure out a way to set up an online account when they are too young to do it. And to do it in a way that could be really tricky. I won’t go so far as to say I understand the criminal ramifications of that. But I do know there are going to be financial ramifications for that kid. And that’s a really scary thing or potentially for that family. So it can get out of control.

Reena Ninan
So this can get pretty bad in ways that you might not have really understood in the beginning.

Lisa Damour
Well, it can, and you mentioned the upside piece. I mean, I think there’s the the enjoyment right, which my wonderful Uber driver like made so clear to me I think that that’s the upside if there’s an upside it just makes what you’re doing already more fun. There’s a lot of downsides right now. And and one of the things that I’ve heard about in terms of downsides is it? First of all, it’s very thrilling to do the betting. It’s like what my Uber driver described, but like, in a way that’s hard to then step back from right or to contain to the weekend. And so I did hear stories, as I was asking and asking of kids who get really, really into the thrill of a game or waiting for a result. And so then they start following all of these things. Like they don’t even care about like Korean women’s soccer or like, European tennis. Yeah, no, I, when I heard one of these stories, I was like, okay, but then when I kept hearing it, yeah, because like, there’s not always a game on in the sport that they’re interested in. And so then they start betting on sports, that really they don’t have any interest in, but they’re just so drawn to the, the feeling of betting that they’re doing it and, you know, I can easily pick chart like, this could start to really get in the way of a person’s like ability to focus on the things they’re supposed to do, like go to class or pay attention to their homework, right? Because in this whole big world, there’s always a sport on somewhere. And apparently, there’s always somebody who’s willing to take your money for you to bet on that sport somewhere. So there’s that element that is worrisome. There’s something bigger here though, Reena, that I want to just unpack around the science of addiction when it comes to gambling,

Reena Ninan
Because is it really an addiction? Lisa?

Lisa Damour
Well, I, I you know, with my crotchety academic view of things, I am very, very, very cautious of using the term addiction because you know, you just terms can be come so elastic that they stop meaning anything with my living in the world and watching how things operate side. anytime soon, something gets to a can’t stop feeling, right, whether it’s we talked about it with video games, you know, if you can’t stop, you might as well call it an addiction, right? I mean, it’s it’s getting in the way it’s causing trouble. And you’re, it’s, you’re at the mercy of it, right. So I there’s absolutely, like, absolutely no question that there can be a can’t stop feeling around gambling. And the way we understand it, I’ve mentioned these intermittent reinforcement schedules. Okay. So whatever else listeners take away from today’s podcast, they need to explain this to their kids. Because it’s something that we all need to understand about human behavior. And it’s something that kids need to understand, especially around things like gambling. So here’s the deal Reena. In behavior science, we have long studied reinforcement schedules, which is how often do you need to give a reward to keep a behavior in place. And the way we do this is with rats and pellets, and a bar that they can press to get the pellet, like this was how we studied. And so we test all these different reinforcement schedules to see how sticky they are. So we have one that we call a continuous reinforcement schedule, which is basically every time the rat presses the bar, they get a pellet. And so they keep pressing the bar because the pellets are yummy. And then what we do is we take the pellets away, and we see how long they will stay there and continue to press the bar. And what we find is that with a very regular schedule, the rat will press the bar five times 10 times after there’s no pellet and then they’ll be like, forget it, this thing’s broken and they’ll walk away. So it’s not that sticky. We’ll also do like an interval where they have to press it 10 times to get the pellet. So they press it 10 times get a pellet, press it 10 times get a pellet. You know, they do that for a while. And then we take the pellets away. And they’ll press it like 40 More times or 50 more times, and then they’ll be like, Okay, this thing is broken, and they’ll give up. Okay, then we get to what we call the intermittent reinforcement schedule. This is where the rat presses the bar five times gets a pellet, the rat passes a bar 10 times gets a pellet once gets a pellet. 30 times gets a pellet. 14 times gets a pellet, so an entirely unpredictable schedule. If we take the pellets away, the rat will stand there and continue to press the bar until they pass out from melacha. Yes, until they pass out until they pass out. So this is the sticky schedule. Now, Reena, gambling is an intermittent reinforcement schedule. You never know when you’re going to hit. And so it’s very hard for people to walk away. Okay, just to put this in real life terms. Think back to college and think if there was like a person you had a crush on, and think if since we are old, they called you every Friday night for five weeks, and then they stopped calling, you know, the sixth and seventh week you might wait by the phone but then you Be like, forget it. Yes. But if they called you three days in a row, and then they didn’t call for two weeks, and then they call twice, and then you don’t hear from them for months, but when they do call, you know, you talk and it’s great. If they stopped calling, you would wait by the phone for months for that person. Wow, you know what I mean? Like that, like I do? Yeah. This is also my dog’s back at the table. Because every once in a while, somebody caves and gives them a little scratch.

Reena Ninan
You’re so right, you’re so right. And it’s hard to cut off. It is the big takeaway from these experiments in our real life.

Lisa Damour
So the big takeaway is, first of all, watch out for intimate reinforcement schedules, like they are actually really dangerous and really sticky. And I think that it’s really important that adolescents understand them both for their love lives, in terms of who they’re waiting around for texts from. And then also, if there’s any possibility that they may be interested in gambling, because, you know, the way that the gambling universe is set up is that it is all about trying to draw them in a lot of these online platforms will front you money. There’s also this whole elaborated universe of people who are selling they’re called signals, which are hints about how we think this game is going to go or this player is going to play. There’s an entire YouTube universe arena of like videos, you can watch about how to be a better gambler. There’s all this stuff, trying to convince kids that they can beat the house. And you know, the number one rule in gambling, what the house always wins. Oh, you’re so right. house always wins. And so I think that it’s really important for adults to be like, Look, I get it. The DraftKings ads are hilarious, it’s very easy to hop online, or you can send that one to that college student or, you know, this is super fun for you and your friends. Or you think you know a lot about basketball. I mean, I was talking about it, you know, with with someone who teaches teenage boys, he’s like, Well, there’s one thing they’re not short on confidence, right? So like, this sort of belief that they somehow have this special angle, right? There’s a lot there that’s designed to convince them that they can get the leg up that they can, you know, somehow beat the house. And so I think as adults, and that’s what we need to say is number one, the house always wins. Let us show you their revenues, right, like the revenue number you quoted, right? That’s not the house to win, making it easy for people to win. The other is, this is designed to make it impossible for you to pull away like that the way gambling works is designed to make it impossible for you to pull away. And the other thing that they should know about, is it so often gambling is set up. Not that you feel that you lost but you feel that you almost won.

Reena Ninan
Yes, that’s so true. And you feel like it’s within your grasp maybe the next time

Lisa Damour
Exactly. It was interesting. My My beloved Uber driver was showing me that he had it was on a basketball game the night before he had, I think he’s had 14 legs on the game. And the legs were all of the different things he could bet on on the game. Like, you know, how many shots with this guy, you know, or how many points with this guy get like, you know, all of these different features of this very specific game. And the setup was that I think he put down 10 bucks. And if he got all 14 legs, I think it’s a parlay, right. Like if you have to get everything. He was gonna win, like 10,000 bucks. I mean, it was like some huge, and also statistically highly improbable, you know, number or, you know, accomplishment. And so he was so excited because he had gotten 13 of the 14. Wow. And so his experience was not that he’d lost him box, but that he almost won 10,000. Right, of course. And that. So I think we really need to be very, very clear with teenagers that gambling is highly manipulative, it actually uses the one reinforcement schedule that we know is the one that is impossible to resist, or nearly impossible. And the other is that experience you have that you almost won. That’s not you’re getting better and better at this. This is you being totally played by the system.

Reena Ninan
Wow. And there’s one thing that you say transparency, when you tell kids are being played and you expose it to them and explain it to them, that they get that even in their teen years.

Lisa Damour
They do, and they don’t like being manipulated. But Reena I gotta tell you, yeah, this is gonna be a hard one for parents, because for the kids who enjoy this, it is so fun. I can see that. It’s hard to not I think for a parent to seem like they’re kind of being a killjoy about it. If if they’re like whoa, you know, easy on the gambling or you need to be careful about gambling.

Reena Ninan
Wow, so bottom line Lisa: What can parents do? You’ve made us aware now. What can we do to prevent this?

Lisa Damour
Well Reena, I think realistically, if your kid is into this, I’m not 100% sure, you can ban it.

Reena Ninan
Really?

Lisa Damour
Yeah. And I just again, like in the name of being realistic, if they have any access to any money, they can find lots of ways to cloak that they’re doing it. You know, they can say, No, I give that kid 10 bucks for Chipotle. But I’m going to call the kid track them down, ask if you know what he had in his order. So I think I think that, first and foremost, we need to be really, really clear with kids that this is more dangerous than it feels. And less it because it feels so fun. And it looks so fun. And it’s designed in that way. Yeah. I think if a kid’s really into it, I think that parent needs to have a very clear conversation with them about what the parameters are going to be. Again, I am acknowledging that one of the parameters, maybe this isn’t even legal. And so you can’t do it. Because it’s not even legal. Right? I think the parents can say that, and really talk with kids about the legal consequences, but then they’re gonna have to really know what those legal consequences are. Because, again, it’s very hard to make a legal case when they’re like, I’ve known kids for five years who’ve been doing this and like, yeah, the cops have not knocked on anybody’s door, right. So I think this is one of those things, that we want kids to be smart, and we want kids to be safe. And we don’t want kids to destroy themselves financially, right? Or lose all their money, right? I mean, just even even if they don’t need the money, like spend all their hard earned money on games. Yeah. I think that, for me, it really is gonna have to be about creating an open line of communication. You know, what are you into? What are you liking? What are we not understanding? How, you know, is there? What are the risks involved? Are you managing those risks? Are those risks that we as a family can comfortably allow? If we’re going to decide that you are allowed to do this, are we going to put some parameters around in terms of money limits, or where the money comes from? Or we have to be, you know, observing and supervising this? I mean, I think this is a tricky one, Rena, and I, I will say it’s new to a lot of adults, I think it’s going on from where they were aware of, I think, whatever else I would say that parents should say to their kid, talk to me about like sports, gambling, like what do you know, and and just get that conversation going? I think there are things that sometimes are happening below the surface with teenagers, that they’re not bringing up with us. And so until we’re the ones bringing it up, we don’t really know what’s happening.

Reena Ninan
In Season One, we did that episode about porn, and you said by the time a child is 16, so that 95% of kids will be exposed to porn. I was like, what? And you said to me, if they have an iPad, any access to the internet, it’s very easy for this to happen. Is online gambling, like that conversation with porn? Were you think, have it before it actually happens? Or is it something you don’t really need to address?

Lisa Damour
Well, I think it do need to address it, in that if kids are into sports, and watching professional sports, it’s already in their face. Right? So, you know, thinking about, you know, if you have, let’s just say for the sake of argument, a son who really loves to watch sports, like, you should sit next to him sometime and watch the commentary. And I think that very soon into that. There will be fodder for saying, man, like this commentary is entirely for people who have money on the game, like, what’s the story here. And then the draft King ads, which are going to be like, This is hilarious. Like, this is really like, this makes us look like it’s all upside. And so I think that, um, whether your kid is betting or not, if they’re watching sports, and they’re, you know, in a universe where sports are, what they’re looking at on their phone, or, you know, penetrating their social media, or, you know, certainly what they’re watching for fun. This is already happening in your kid’s world, one way or another. Whether your kid has money on the games is something else altogether. But we do need to be talking with them about gambling, how it works, how the household was wins, and how people can really get themselves in trouble.

Reena Ninan
Wow, this is not a parenting issue. I really thought we needed to address but boy, do I get it now. This is really incredible stuff that you’ve given us. What do you have for us, Lisa, for Parenting to Go?

Lisa Damour
You know, it’s hard sometimes to bring up a topic where it’s so murky and complex. But I feel like we’re not doing our job right if we just stick to the easy ones. But what I think about here is that when it comes to teenagers and safety, safety is not something we do to teenagers. It’s something we do with to teenagers. And given how easy it would be for a kid to go underground with all of this, I think that we have to acknowledge that this might be something where we’re needing to really work hard to keep the lines of communication open about what’s out there, what the kids are interested in what you know, may or may not be available to them, and where the parents stand on trying to help that kid stay safe, and not put themselves in a bad position, financially or otherwise.

Reena Ninan
Such a great point about safety. Such a great point. Well, Lisa, thank you. I get it. I get why you wanted to do this episode now. It was really, really eye opening for me. And next week, we’re going to have an encore episode and done gambling this week. We’re going to talk about bribing next week. When did you really bribe your kid? Should you ever I’ll see you next week.

Lisa Damour
I’ll see you next week.

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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