Football season is here. The World Series is around the corner. NBA off-season trades are happening. And never has there been an easier time to bet on them, just by pulling out your phone. While it’s meant as a form of entertainment, ease of access, combined with Americans’ obsession with sports, make online sports betting a fast growing, yet potentially risky activity. Big business already Today, online sports betting is both legal and operational statewide in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Another five states, which have already legalized it, are likely to come online soon, according to Dustin Gouker, an analyst with PlayUSA Network, which provides news and analysis on online gaming. The amount of money being wagered is high and rising. In just the first eight months of this year, $28.7 billion in sports bets were made, with the vast majority of that coming from online wagers. By comparison, the total for all of 2020 came to $21.6 billion, Gouker said. And given that September is one of the biggest months for online sports betting, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if the total amount wagered this year comes close to double that of 2020. Here comes the ad blitz If you live in or near a state where online sports betting is allowed or soon will be, expect to be bombarded with television ads and other marketing. Money spent on advertising – especially by the three biggest purveyors of online sports betting (FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM) – likely accounts for over 25% of the industry’s gross revenue, according to independent research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. If you count their efforts to both acquire new customers and retain current ones, that share goes higher. “The typical US online sportsbook spends more than half of its revenue acquiring and retaining customers,” said Chris Grove, a principal at the firm. Being oversaturated with ads can become a risk for anyone who currently has a gambling problem, is a gambler in recovery or is a young adult who likely has never been educated about the risks of excessive gambling, said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. Signs your online betting may be getting out of hand While people with a severe gambling problem are estimated to be just 1% of the US population, another 2% to 3% are considered to have mild to moderate gambling problems, according to NCPG. It’s unclear whether the growing prevalence of online sports betting across states will eventually increase those estimates, which have been around for more than a decade. But NCPG has seen an uptick in people reporting problematic gambling behaviors between 2018, when legalized sports betting in states began to take off, and 2021. NCPG further notes that research shows people – especially young men – who bet on sports and who pay to play daily fantasy sports are at least twice as likely as other gamblers to report problematic behaviors. And the risk of developing a gambling problem is associated with high-frequency in-game betting, increased advertising and marketing for online betting, and the perception that sports betting is a skill, among other things. So if you regularly bet on sports – or live with someone who does – here are some signs it has become a problem, according to NCPG’s Whyte and Gamblers Anonymous. Lying: Problem gamblers may lie about the time and money they spend on betting. Losing control: They can’t set a limit on the time and money they spend. Or, if they do, they can’t stick to it. Chasing losses: They place more bets in an attempt to make up for a big loss, digging an even deeper hole. “No one says if I drank a fifth of vodka yesterday, drinking two-fifths today can cure my problem,” Whyte said. Having problems on the job: Getting too consumed by online betting may affect performance and attendance at work. Experiencing debilitating outcomes: Life-changing financial losses – e.g., losing your house or blowing through your child’s college fund – are most typically associated with gambling problems. But it goes well beyond that, Whyte said. There is a high risk of emotional harm – from divorce to depression – as well as physical harm, such as domestic violence and suicide. How to get help If you or someone close to you is exhibiting potentially concerning behaviors with online sports betting here are a few ways to get help. Look for a betting site’s “responsible gaming” page: The rules and regulations are very patchwork in terms of what online sports betting sites must do to make users aware of the risks of problem gambling and the resources available to them if they think they have a problem. But many will offer users the option to “self-exclude” or “self-limit” their play – for example, by setting how much money gets deposited into their accounts, how long they may bet or how long they wish to take a break from play entirely. Go to Gamblers Anonymous: The web site lists times and locations for meetings across the country. It also lists state-specific hotlines to call if you need help right away. And its sister site, GamAnon.org, lists meetings and resources for those affected by someone’s gambling problem. Check resources at NCPG: More resources for help and treatment can be found at NCPG, which includes a national and confidential helpline to call or text (1-800-522-4700) plus a link to a directory of credentialed gambling and gaming disorder counselors.