Sports Betting: ART OR SCIENCE? Some Lessons From Ohio’s Past

By: Bruce Jones

You can’t miss their constant television ads. The big Daily Fantasy Sports operators have been pounding the drum for sports wagering for more than a decade. Now, with the advent of legalized sports betting in Ohio, FanDuel, DraftKings, Bet MGM and more are beating their chests at a frenzied pace.

As experts on gambling addiction, we’ve tried to educate people in Central Ohio to the issues and questions raised about sports betting for over seven years. When we first wrote about them back in 2015, we parsed out the arguments about whether engaging in fantasy sports constitutes a game of skill or a game of chance.

This isn’t a pointless debate. This question actually connects directly to how people can get addicted to gambling. That makes it an issue worth revisiting as we get set for Ohio to launch sports wagering in 2023.

You may read up on every player, study the timing and location of games, compile statistics until your Excel spreadsheet overflows. And that might have some impact on your odds of success.

But, at the end of the day, it’s still about fate.

Perhaps the best evaluation came from Gabriel Fletcher, who wrote in the University of Cincinnati Law Review: “…contestants may exhibit a level of skill, investigation, research, and judgment in the formation of their lineups. However, the fact that contestants must rely on third party athletes to generate their scores introduces an element of chance.”

Compare that to this more recent Washington Post article by Eric Adelson examining the mindset of a sports bettor: “People who bet on sports often believe they have an edge because they follow the teams. The random bounce of a football or a blown call doesn’t tend to factor into a bettor’s belief system.”

In our world, we realize that one of the most seductive elements of sports gambling is the illusion of control and, as noted by some experts, an appeal to our ego.

Dr. Timothy Fong, from the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, noted that for many gamblers, the rationale for sports betting is less about money and more about the desire to look smarter, or to prove right their theories about certain teams and players.

In short, it’s more about being right than being rich. Of course, the two go hand-in-hand in sports betting, but this “desire to look smarter” is a delusion when relying on imperfect people to perfectly perform and you discount unexpected injuries, lineup changes, coaching errors or the myriad of other factors that determine the final score.

For all the unpredictability of the game, it’s fascinating that sports gambling operators have perfected computer algorithms to precisely track and predict gambler behavior.

As we compile more and more data on sports gambling from various early adopter states, there’s another factor to consider. As the previously mentioned Washington Post piece notes, gambling operators have figured out a lot about customers, “…when they bet, how much they bet, whom they bet on—and addiction experts maintain that the companies have a responsibility to use that data to help keep bettors from becoming addicts.”

In Ohio, we tout our partnerships with the various operators who will earn literally billions from sports betting next year. It’s my hope that these operators will use their data to protect people as well.

As a member of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio board, we will continue pushing for common sense protections. We’ll encourage folks to use the voluntary exclusion program when appropriate, and we’ll rely on relationships to ensure that local proprietors do their part, too.

Most importantly, we’ll need your support. Is there someone you know that might need to talk with our team about their habits? A relative who is spending too much time thinking about their next bet? A friend who is starting to lose or use that “illusion of control?”

Maryhaven is here for them, and for you!

Our experts are here to help both the gambler and those who love someone who may gamble too much. Call 614-324-5425 or go to for more information.

About the Author

Bruce Jones

Administrative Coordinator LSW, LCDC III, NCGC II

Bruce is a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and a Nationally-Certified Gambling Counselor Level II who has worked for Maryhaven since 2000. He saw the need for gambling services in Central Ohio in 2009 and asked Maryhaven to apply for a private grant from the Columbus Foundation to target help to those struggling with gambling addiction. The state then supplied funding after his vision was verified with the amount of clients seeking services that first year and Bruce has been working with individuals, family members, and communities ever since.


Have a question for our experts? Call us at 614-324-5425 or submit it here:

    To Schedule an Appointment, please click "Contact Us" above.

    Ask the Experts