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Sports Betting: A Good Bet?

People love the idea of sitting back, doing nothing, and making money. You know it’s true. That’s why get-rich-quick schemes like cryptocurrency and nothing-down real estate have gotten so popular these days. Well, here’s one more thing you can add to that list: sports betting apps.

If betting on sports makes you think of classic black-and-white movies where the main character owes money to a bookie after losing a bet at the horse races, then you need to get with the times. This ain’t your grandfather’s Kentucky Derby.

Sports betting has changed a lot since those days, and even more so in just the last few years. The bookie now lives in your phone—on the many sports betting sites and apps—and he’s ready and willing to take your money.

So, is putting money on the big game a good idea? It’s time to find out.

What Is Sports Betting?

Okay, let’s cover the basics here. Sports betting is simply when someone bets money on a sporting event. Back in the olden days, slightly after dinosaurs roamed the earth (rest in power, dino homies), people would put money on who would win, who would lose, or how many points would be scored in the game. But these days, you can place a sports bet on just about anything.

You can bet on an individual player’s performance, like how many home runs they’ll hit or touchdowns they’ll score. Or you can bet on a team’s performance, like how many rebounds or turnovers they’ll have.

You can even bet on some really specific and random stuff, like which team will score first and whether the bases will be loaded at the end of the first inning—you know, the kinds of things you can definitely make an educated guess about (that’s sarcasm, in case my tone wasn’t clear).

Here’s how it all works: If whatever you bet on winds up happening, you win the bet and make some money. But if you aren’t that lucky, you lose the bet and the money you put in.

What Are Sports Betting Sites?

Sports betting websites and apps are where most people place their bets these days. Some folks call this mobile sports betting because—you guessed it—you can do it right from your mobile phone (does anyone under 70 years old actually call it that?).

Thanks to the internet and sports betting apps, making a bet has never been easier. With just a few clicks, you can put $500 on the big playoff game. It’s about as easy and mindless as scrolling your Instagram feed—except this app is about to pull $500 out of your pocket.

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Sports Betting and Your Money

Betting feels awesome . . . when you win. But when you don't, you try to recover your losses—some folks even drain their bank account, take out another mortgage on their house or make other desperate and stupid moves. Desperate is never a good look. And desperate never makes good money decisions either.

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Oh, and let’s just be clear here—your odds of getting rich off sports betting apps are low. It takes a huge bank roll to actually make money long term. Seriously. You’d have to bet hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to see any kind of real money from it.

Don’t use betting on the big game as an investment plan—no matter how much Big Rick with the cheese on his head at the Packers game says you should. Smart investors who want to build wealth the right way don't gamble on sports betting. They keep their investments diverse in the market and have a long-term mindset.

So, if you’re just trying to use sports betting apps as an investment—don’t. You’re way better off playing the long game here and putting that money into growth stock mutual funds.

The Ugly Truth About Sports Betting

Here’s the thing about betting on sports—it’s fun. And sports betting sites know it. They'll lure you in with the promise of a free bet and then suck you in by combining two things you already love, sports and technology, into a game.

These sports betting companies know exactly what they’re doing here. They know who their audience is. They’re targeting young, impressionable people the same way the tobacco industry did years ago. 

Online betting companies knew the younger generations weren’t going to look for a bookie hiding outside of a sports stadium, so they brought the bookie to them—right to their phones.

The crazy thing is, most people making these outrageous bets can’t afford the loss. They’re not made of money. In fact, that’s why they’re drawn to sports gambling. They’re trying to make money—and quickly. These are the same folks investing money they can't afford to lose in crypto and Tesla single stocks while they’re still saddled with student loan debt and car payments.

Here’s my hot take, folks: Sports betting makes the middle class broke and the lower class even more broke. Take the already addictive nature of gambling, combine it with the ease of using mobile apps, add in some peer pressure from your sports-loving friend group, throw in the odds stacked against you by a professional bookie, and you have a recipe for a lot of broke people with more anxiety and money problems than ever.

That’s a recipe for disaster—not unlike your Aunt Donna’s green congealed salad.

What Sports Betting Sites Are Out There?

There are a ton. Chances are, you’ve probably seen plenty of commercials and ads for these guys. Here are some of the heavy hitters when it comes to mobile sports betting sites:

  • BetMGM
  • DraftKings
  • FanDuel
  • bet365
  • WynnBET

Okay, let’s talk about those commercials for a second. If you watch television for about 20 minutes these days, you’ll definitely catch an ad for sports betting apps. Why? Because these companies are rolling in the money.

Commercials on TV for sports gambling are out of control, and buying ad time on TV isn’t cheap. Their marketing budgets alone would make your retirement account look like chump change. These companies are making so much money that buying commercial airtime is like a drop in the bucket for them. And you know how they’re making their money, right? Off of you.

Is Sports Betting Legal Where I Live?

Good question. Since I don’t know where you live (because that would be creepy), you’re going to have to check out this tracker to keep up with the laws in your state. Here in Tennessee, online sports gambling became legal in May 2019 and went live in November 2020, but it’s still off limits in several states.1

Sports Betting and Addiction

Gambling became a lot more accessible in 2018—that’s when the Supreme Court decided to let states call the shots when it came to legalizing sports gambling.2 Now, instead of having to take the party bus to hit up a casino in Atlantic City or playing the slots in Las Vegas, you can gamble right from the comfort of your futon while eating buffalo chicken dip.

So, what did opening up the floodgates like that do? Made it easier for people to get into trouble with gambling, that’s what.

The hard truth is, sports betting isn’t all fun and games. People get addicted to this stuff just like they get addicted to drugs and alcohol.

You see, when you win a bet, the reward center of your brain goes bonkers. It creates a high that you keep trying to reach over and over again. Just like taking drugs, the neurological effect here is addictive, and a lot of people get swept up in it.

Addiction is messy, and an addiction to placing bets on sports is no different. Gambling on sports rips bank accounts to pieces and tears families apart. But unlike an addiction to alcohol and drugs, a sports gambling addiction is way less noticeable. And everyone around you is doing it, so you think to yourself, “Well, how bad is it for me, really?”

If you come into work drunk at 9 a.m., people know about it. But an addiction to gambling that you can hide in your phone while totally sober? It’s easier to keep that tucked away without anyone knowing. And even though only 1% of the population fall into the “gambling problem” category, that’s still a lot of people (about 2 million adults, to be exact).3

P.S. If you or someone you know has a gambling addiction, you don’t have to suffer alone. Get some people in your corner who can help you. Talk to a counselor, a pastor or your friends and family. Join a Gamblers Anonymous support group. And if you don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to, you can always reach out to the 24-hour confidential national hotline too. Just call or text 1-800-522-4700, or chat online.

Bottom Line? Don’t Play the Game if You Can’t Afford to Lose

Look, the odds of sports betting working out for you aren’t good. In fact, they’re bad. Sure, they might be better than your odds of winning the lottery, but they still aren’t good. As the saying goes in Vegas, “The house always wins.” And if you think you can outsmart the house, you've already lost. The bookies who figure out the odds are super intelligent people who do this professionally. For a living. You simply can’t beat them in the long run—or the short run.

At the end of the day, spending hours a week researching and trying to make an educated guess is a waste of time. Just enjoy the game and keep your sports loving separate from your moneymaking—your bank account, your relationships, your sleep and your life will be better for it.

I can hear you through the screen now, saying, “But, George, I actually did win some money once!” Hey, I’m happy for you. But even if you win, it won’t be worth all of the time and energy you wasted. Think about it—was all that effort (and all the times you lost) really worth winning $20? And you can't guarantee you’ll make that win happen again either. The truth is, you'll go broke trying.

If you still want to get into online sports betting for fun—and you can afford to lose the money—just remember a few things before you place that bet:

  1. You need to be out of debt, have a fully funded emergency fund, and be investing 15% into retirement (like a 401(k) or IRA). Don’t be dropping $500 betting on the big game when you haven’t even made it past Baby Step 2 yet. Hard nope. 
  2. Never go into debt to place a bet. This is extra dumb. Don’t go into debt, bet on credit, or take out a loan so you can gamble. If you feel the need to do that, then it’s pretty clear you can’t afford to lose the money. And it’s even more clear that you have a gambling problem. 
  3. Budget for your bet. Whatever you do, make sure you’re budgeting for the money you gamble. Yeah, I’m serious. If it’s money you plan on spending, then it needs to be in your budget. And think about if that “fun money” would be better spent on something else more fun. Like something that doesn’t end with you losing.

How much should you blow on sports betting? Well, the ball is in your court, but here’s a pro tip: Only spend what you're willing to lose, because you will (mostly) lose.

Win or lose, telling your money where to go is super easy with our free budgeting app, EveryDollar. Whether its gambling on sports or budgeting for groceries, EveryDollar is the best way to budget. Now that’s something you can bet on.

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George Kamel

About the author

George Kamel

George Kamel is the #1 national bestselling author of Breaking Free From Broke, a personal finance expert, a certified financial coach through Ramsey Financial Coach Master Training, and a nationally syndicated columnist. He’s the host of the George Kamel YouTube channel and co-host of Smart Money Happy Hour and The Ramsey Show, the second-largest talk radio show in America. George has served at Ramsey Solutions since 2013, where he speaks, writes and teaches on personal finance, investing, budgeting, insurance and how to avoid consumer traps. He’s been featured on Fox News, Fox Business and The Iced Coffee Hour, among others. Learn More.

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