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Beware the Ides of March: Why March Madness Gambling Addiction Could Be a Bigger Problem in 2014

While March is full of excitement and honest fun for most, for some others it can be the most miserable time of the year.

For millions of basketball fans and bettors March is the best month of the year. There is the fun of tuning in on Selection Sunday to see if your team qualifies for the big dance, the thrill of filling out your bracket, and the comfort of knowing that anytime you turn on the TV or live stream a great matchup will be on. What’s not to love?

Sadly for some people March can bring misery in contrast to the general euphoria. Some people live and die with the outcomes of the 67 basketball games, and with how difficult they are to predict, bettors are more likely to lose than win. These people are gambling addicts. The NCAA tournament has a stronger pull on addicts than other sporting events, making March Madness gambling addiction a serious problem. We will take a look at how prevalent problem gambling is in March Madness, why it is a problem, and where people can turn for help.

How many participants in March Madness are problem gamblers?

Time estimated that between 30 and 40 million Americans, roughly 10 percent of the population, participate in betting on the NCAA tournament annually. The industry is worth about $3.1 billion annually. As massive as it is, few of these people have gambling problems.

According to a study by Harvard Medical School, roughly 1.1 percent of Americans are “problem gamblers.” Another study by the University of Buffalo put that number at 3.5 percent. Taking Buffalo’s liberal estimate, even if every one of those people bet on March Madness, it would mean roughly 30 percent of participants were problem gamblers. Surely the real figure is much smaller than that. A small percentage of those betting on the event are addicts, but it can still lead to problems for many people.

Why is March so mad?

The “true madness” of March Madness is that it is more likely to breed addictive gambling behavior than other forms of sportsbetting. It attracts people of all ages and genders, regardless of whether they have any interest in basketball. Even the president of the United States fills his out on live TV each year. I remember submitting my first bracket along with a $5 bill when I was only 12 year old. I’m not a problem gambler, but some of the guys who were in my pool back then are. That $5 wager can sometimes lead to financial ruin.

• March Madness can be more stimulating for gambling addicts than other sporting events

• Over 30 million Americans are estimated to bet on March Madness each year, but very few of them who addictive behavior

• March Madness betting is very popular among college students, who are particularly susceptible to gambling addiction

Betting on March Madness is especially popular with college students, providing the venue in which many of them place their first bet. Much research shows that those who start gambling in college are more likely to develop addiction than those who place their first bets later in life. US News reported that some experts estimate up to 7 percent of American college students meet the criteria for problem gambling.

Then there is the thrill of filling out a bracket, more intense than anything in the sportsbetting world. Couple this with the fact that games are being played everyday, and there are infinite opportunities to place wagers. Addicts can easily get lost in all the excitement, gambling away their financial security, careers, and relationships with loved ones. And many recovering addicts who think they have the problem under control suffer a relapse in March.

What can be done about it?

It can be more difficult to spot a sportsbetting addict than a compulsive casino gambler or poker player. Wagering can usually be done online or over the phone, and many addicts seem to be ordinary sports fans. If over 30 million Americans fill out brackets year, how can you tell that your friend or loved one has a problem?

There are some warning signs. One obvious one is excessive talk about point spreads and odds. These are things that generally only interest gamblers, not sports fans in general. Others are avidly rooting for teams which he or she is normally not interested in, making excessive calls to unknown telephone numbers and visits to sports pages, and getting up from the game to make secretive phone calls.

If someone close to you shows some of these warning signs, the first thing you should do is confront them about it. Most addicts who bet on sports in America don’t think of their actions as problematic, and many will seek help if encouraged to. There are countless hotlines you can call for advice. Simply search the web for a hotline serving people in your area. Free support groups for gambling addicts are also widely available across the US.

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