The House Always Wins
Photographed by Paige Hassen of Maylynne Hath, Destiny Longstreet, and Kennedy Ray
Styled by Jhovany Rodriguez
Directed by Alayna Jones
Journalist Assist: Chase Owens
Style Assist: Haedyn Moore
Photography Assist: Jessie Heilig
By Allison Miller
Disclaimer: this article is for educational purposes only, if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please see the attached resources.
For years, gambling has been associated with a very distinct image: the glittering, glamorous, Las Vegas life that draws the eye and the wallet into a world of fun. Casino advertisements show well-dressed people enjoying dinners and lovely restaurants and sleeping in luxurious hotel rooms. They portray casinos as a getaway, a place away from home to relax and have some fun. Nowadays, casinos are no longer a getaway, they exist much closer to home than we could have imagined even 10 years ago. The digital age has caused the rise of a new, uncomfortable truth: many people who have never stepped foot into a casino now have a gambling addiction.
Gambling is taking on a new face in our lives, an invisible one. No longer is a casino or horse track the only location to place bets, but instead, it follows us wherever we go and has infiltrated our homes. Instead of physically sitting down at a casino table, we can pick up our phones, tablets, or computers and sit down on our couch to play classic casino games for real money or place a bet that our favorite sports team will win their next game. It seems harmless to play a slot machine on a tablet or bet small amounts on sports, right? When betting online, it is harder to see the dollars fading from your bank account until far later than the football game that evening.
Sports betting apps show commercials during sports games that encourage jumping on bets at that very moment. They market it as an activity that makes watching the game “more fun”, because you are more invested in it. Yet, somehow, even when your team is winning, the betting aspect can still take the fun out of a game. Since sports betting apps encourage betting on how many points or yards a team or player will get, the stress of achieving this certain goal can distract from the actual point of watching sports: enjoyment. Maybe the app you are using to bet on your favorite sports team offered you a “bonus” for betting on that game that this extremely niche incident will happen. It is free money, right?
Wrong. Our logical minds must understand that nothing in this life comes “free”. Our problem is understanding that the $50 bet that FanDuel or other gambling platforms allow you to make ends up right back in their pockets. The “free money” or “free bets” that are being offered are doing exactly what they are intended to do: pull more money out of your pockets. Portraying the experience as lower stakes than it is helps perpetuate the notion that funneling money into more bets is a proactive activity.
Gambling taps into the parts of our brain that release dopamine, or the “feel good” hormone. Most of us reading this are not professional athletes, so sometimes winning a bet online gives us the hit of dopamine that our favorite players feel after winning a game. The difference is that gamblers can reach that “winning feeling” while hardly lifting a finger. Each time you win a bet, your brain craves that feeling more and more. Like other addictions, the more often you gamble, the harder it is to achieve the pleasure associated with winning. This leads to more bets and higher stakes needed to stimulate the part of the brain that is craving that high.
Online gambling platforms are getting increasingly better at making the act of betting seem more like a game than a gamble. Some even keep you coming back each day to “spin a wheel” or other sort of tactic that allows you to “win” a prize when you visit the app. Many applications also create games that you can bet money on that resemble other free applications. Gambling platforms are using clever marketing skills to make their application appear fun and exciting like a game instead of a marketplace to spend money. The gamification of gambling keeps users hooked in a toxic cycle of betting and losing more each day.
The finest part of all of this is the legal requirements gambling platforms must include in their advertisements to “inform” viewers of the risk. It is not unfamiliar to ignore these risks when watching a commercial for a pharmaceutical, so why not ignore them when hearing about gambling? Many people are also guilty of accepting the “terms and conditions” thrown at them by any application or website without reading them. In the future, what if we challenge ourselves to listen more closely? Are there legitimate risks associated with partaking in this activity that appears harmless and fun at first glance? Companies know you, and they know how to market to keep you coming back. It is sometimes better to stop the cycle before it starts and choose to avoid the online forms of gambling that are infiltrating our homes to protect ourselves and our loved ones from a very slippery slope.