Sports and Gambling

Learn more about the various forms of sports betting and the potential risks, recent expansions, and tips on making informed decisions about your play.

Sports betting offers sports fans a different way to engage with their teams – tapping into their passion and heightened emotions during big games. However, this state of excitement makes it especially important to be mindful that your emotions don’t take over – which may lead to making wagers you can end up regretting.

Sports betting is a form of gambling and as with all forms of gambling, it is essential to take precautions to avoid harm.

Sports Betting Expansion

Online sports betting has increased in numerous countries over the past few years,[1] with sports betting contributing to approximately 45% of the online gambling market share.[2] With the legalization of single-event sports betting on the horizon in Canada and the 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that permitted the United States to offer and regulate sports wagering, this form of gambling will continue to grow.


Sports betting platforms have also expanded. Recent technological advances have allowed sports betting to be offered through multiple platforms (mobile apps, online sites, etc.). These platforms have provided the opportunity for several different gambling options to evolve.

Live in-play betting (e.g. betting on who will score next during a hockey game) is one such option, which has also been strongly associated with problem gambling.[3]

The rapid expansion of online sports betting, its easy 24/7 access via the Internet and the emotional and cultural value of sports raise the potential for gambling risk and harm. It also highlights the importance of playing responsibly.

Who’s at Risk?

The rate of problem gambling among sports bettors is higher than that of the general gambling population. [3]

Numerous factors may provoke harmful gambling. Live-action sports betting, in particular, is a significant independent predictor of at-risk gambling.₄ Young adults and men are more likely to experience problem gambling harms than women in general.[5] This is also a significant factor in sports betting: youth (8-17 years) and young adults (18-34 years), particularly males, are at high risk for problems with sports betting.[6]

Risky beliefs also raise the likelihood of gambling harms for players and their close relations. Online sports bettors and advertising commonly endorse the false belief that skills, knowledge or analysis play a more significant role in winning wagers than chance or luck.[7] This belief reflects an illusion of control—when a person believes that they can control and predict complex or random outcomes.

The following characteristics below are generally associated with gambling problems among sports bettors: [3][8]

  • Male
  • Young adult
  • Single
  • Full-time employed or student
  • High-school level of education
  • Engage in multiple types of gambling
  • Engage with multiple online operators
  • Frequently use multiple types of gambling promotions
  • Have significant others and friends who favour sports betting


Research has suggested that sports bettors have twice as high of a problem gambling rate than gamblers in general.

Another area to be mindful of is sports betting while intoxicated. For many sports spectators,  part of the experience can include drinking alcohol or consuming other substances, such as cannabis. It’s important to remember that gambling while intoxicated is always a bad bet and can be a risk factor for gambling problems, such as overspending or regretting big bets that were placed under the influence.

If you play, play safe.

Gambling too often or playing for the wrong reasons – such as gambling to escape or to help pay off bills – can lead to gambling harms. Learn the low-risk strategies to keep your sports betting safe and fun.

Tips to Keep Your Gambling Safe

[1] Estevez, A., Rodriguez, R., Diaz, N., Granero, R., Mestre-Bach, G., Steward, T., et al. (2017). How do online sports gambling disorder patients compare with land-based patients? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6(4), 639–647.

[2] Statista

[3] Winters, K.C. & Derevensky, J. (February, 2019). Comprehensive Review of Sports Wagering and Gambling Addiction. Washington, DC: National Center on Problem Gambling

[4] Killick EA, Griffiths MD. In-Play Sports Betting: A Scoping Study. Int J Ment Health Addict. Published online 2018:1-40. doi:10.1007/s11469-018-9896-6

[5] Merkouris, S. S., Thomas, A. C., Shandley, K. A., Rodda, S. N., Oldenhof, E., & Dowling, N. A. (2016). An update on gender differences om the characteristics associated with problem gambling: a systematic review. Current Addiction Reports, 3(3), 254–267.

[6] Jenkinson R, Lacy-Vawdon C de, Carroll M. Weighing Up the Odds: Young Men, Sports and Betting.; 2018.

[7] Mercier, J., Sévigny, S., Jacques, C., Goulet, A., Cantinotti, M., & Giroux, I. (2018). Sports bettors: A systematic review. Journal of Gambling Issues

[8] Humphreys BR, Perez L. Who bets on sports? Characteristics of sports bettors and the consequences of expanding sports betting opportunities. Estudios de economía aplicada. 2012;30(2):579-97.