It's Saturday in Kew Gardens, Queens.
The pizza is delivered. The big screen TV is on. Nick Laveglia has his smartphone in hand. He’s ready for an afternoon of sports.
Laveglia said he’s a daily user of the new mobile sports betting apps legalized in New York in January.
"I have Inter Milan, AC Milan and Atletico Madrid in a parlay,” he said. “I bet like $10, $20. If I really feel good about a bet, maybe I'll go up to $50."
Before this year, if you wanted to legally bet on sports, you had to go to a casino upstate and place it in person. Around $170 million was bet this way since last April.
But now, there is mobile sports betting, which has proven wildly popular. According to the State Gaming Commission, in the first months of this year, New Yorkers have bet nearly $4 billion across all the mobile apps authorized by the state. That has generated a gross revenue of more than $270 million for the industry so far, and tax revenues of close to $140 million for the state.
But as the tax revenue grows, concerns about the potential for problem gambling are also growing.
Laveglia said he bets responsibly and within his financial limits. But there are other New Yorkers who struggle to stay in control.
Sheena Smith from the New York Problem Gambling Resource Center said inquiries related to sports betting have nearly doubled since the mobile apps entered the scene.
“That dopamine rush, like, ‘I want to win, I want to win, I want to win,’" she said. “The apps are very accessible, the marketing is very intriguing and rigorous. And if someone has a gambling addiction, they could bet away their whole savings.”
According to the state Office of Addiction Services and Support, the number of gambling-related calls and texts to its hotline was relatively unchanged between January of 2020, before the pandemic, and January of 2021, during the pandemic. But that number shot up by almost half in January of this year, after the betting apps debuted.
"When sports betting became available? Boy oh boy oh boy. The type of influx of calls, the type of conversations that are taking place now amongst the hype of sports betting is really concerning," Smith said.
In its 2022 fiscal year budget, the state earmarked 1% of the tax revenue from mobile sports betting for problem gambling support services. Another 1% is designated for youth sports programs. The rest of the 98% is allocated for education spending.
“This is new money coming in. There should be no excuse for not devoting more of it to it to deal with the downside of this whole thing,” said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. “Hey, it’s great. Some people find it entertaining. If you do it once in a while, God bless you, maybe you’ll get lucky. But some people get hooked on it, and they ruin their lives, they ruin their families’ lives.”
The legalization of mobile sports betting apps came with a wave of new advertising on TV and on
social media sites, as well subways, buses and billboards around the city.
“We market, we encourage people to participate, and some people can’t help themselves and they over participate. So the fact that we’re trying to make it as appealing as possible to try and maximize the money and the revenue that we get, we are in some ways entrapping people into this," DiNapoli said.
The American Gaming Association, a national group representing the betting industry, said “Creating a responsible, sustainable market is the top priority for our industry…It’s not just the right thing to do, but a business obligation that players engage responsibly.”
NY1 reached out to all nine of the mobile sports betting apps operating in the state about problem gambling.
Caesars, FanDuel, and DraftKings point to features built into their apps that allow users to set limits on the time and money they spend betting, limits Laveglia said he already sets for himself.
"I'm a realist, and I know I'm not going to become a millionaire off of betting. Betting is entertainment. And I know unfortunately, there's going to be people who go over the top, and I worry for people like that," he said.
Laveglia said he jumped into the deep end of app based gambling in part because of the incentives offered when friends get friends to join, even knowing the odds of winning are usually against him.
“What better way than to offer an incentive like, ‘Sign up with me and I'll give you some free bets?’" Laveglia said. "And you know on the other side they're hoping, understandably, that you lose, you get hooked, and you put more money in."
When asked if he felt he was hooked, Laveglia replied, "Umm...I can't say no. I bet almost every day."
If you or someone you know may have a gambling addiction, please call the NY HOPELINE. They are available 24/7. The number is 1-877-8-HOPENY.