Researcher Finds Link Between Sports Betting and Binge Drinking

Grant Mitchell
Grant Mitchell
USA Legal Betting


  • The study did not differentiate between online and in-person sports betting
  • The research lead noted that the U.S. quick launch of sports betting was unique
  • Local officials often discuss problem gambling but overlook other behavioral issues 

A study led by a specialist in alcohol and substance abuse found that sports bettors are more likely to binge drink than non-gamblers.

“A lot of people are worried about what sports wagering is going to do to people’s finances and their money in gambling problems,” said Joshua Grubbs, a researcher and professor at the University of New Mexico Center on Alcohol, Substance Use and Addictions. “But, with sports gambling, there may be even greater overall risks because sports gambling, even more than other types of gambling, is linked to problematic alcohol use.”

Regulators in states with and without  legal sports betting often cite public health as one of their primary considerations during legislative discussions. Though that discourse typically involves problem gambling, the research shows that there are links between sports betting and other health issues.

The findings 

The study was funded by the International Center for Responsible Gaming and will be featured in JAMA Network Open, a monthly medical journal published by the American Medical Association. 

According to Grubbs, in-person and online sports betting are often paired together because of the environment.

“You’re gambling on sports, you’re hanging out with your friends, you’re drinking and having what seems like a good time, and it creates a cycle where more alcohol makes it easier to bet more, which keeps you engaged and likely drinking more,” Grubbs said. 

He also connected the psyches of sports bettors to those of individuals who engage in binge drinking. He concluded that sports bettors are more willing to accept risk just the same way heavy drinkers often throw caution to the wind. 

Grubbs said that the research team did not explore the differences in drinking habits between sports bettors who frequent retail locations or who use mobile sports betting apps. However, he suggested that online sports bettors could be linked more heavily with unhealthy drinking standards. 

He also noted that the United States differs from many other countries with legal sportsbooks since it allowed the legalization and rapid growth of sports wagering in such a short time. 38 of 50 (76 percent) states and Washington D.C. are home to sports betting operators, and several non-sports betting states are actively considering legislation.

The rapid turnaround has allowed certain parts of the market to run wild, which is why there has been so much pushback in areas such as advertising regulations.

More regulations needed 

After a crazy first few years, sports betting companies and regulators are taking more steps to protect consumers from abuse and general issues.

Seven leading betting sitesbet365, BetMGM, DraftKings, PENN Entertainment (ESPN Bet), Fanatics, FanDuel, and Hard Rock—announced in March they teamed up to form the “Responsible Online Gaming Association.” The joint venture will see the companies share insights related to problem gambling and work together to increase education and awareness for gambling addiction.

Maryland, Ohio, Louisiana, and Vermont also recently announced immediate or upcoming bans on college player prop bets around the time NCAA President Charlie Baker released a public statement imploring states to remove these types of bets. 

Baker’s plea came from a desire to uphold the integrity of college sports and to protect student-athletes from the increase in harassment they experienced after the federal legalization of sports betting.

Despite these and other efforts, there are still many cases of gambling abuse and major betting scandals, such as the one involving Los Angeles Dodgers megastar Shohei Ohtani.

Grubbs hopes that his research will help sports betting regulators address the issues related to alcohol. 

“Across the U.S., due to state regulations, there are a lot of responsible gambling messages and warnings that casinos and sportsbooks are required to share with people," said Grubbs. "But I think we need to consider whether or not there also needs to be messaging around alcohol use as well in those settings, especially if increasing access to sports gambling is bringing people into situations where they’re more likely to drink in dangerous ways, if we know that these things are going hand in hand, we need to think about how to minimize harm.”