Are Sportsbooks Misusing ‘Problem Gambling’ To Limit Winning Bettors?

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Written By Eli Hershkovich | Last Updated
Problem Gambling

In Tuesday’s Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) roundtable discussion, geared toward limiting sports bettors, 10 sportsbooks declined to participate. If that isn’t enough of a concern, another topic remains unanswered — why are limited customers often met with a lack of clarity behind the decision? Meanwhile, some lucky users who have been limited are met with a quick yet bewildering explanation: problem gambling.

the excuse for sports betting limits

Operators tend to deny limiting players. In reality, sportsbook customers generally aren’t privy to why they are limited. In the rare instances they are, the logic is sometimes flawed.

In June 2023, a Poke restaurant in Northwest Washington, D.C., provided customers with two sports betting kiosks run by GambetDC, the District’s government-sponsored sportsbook. That month, one gambler reportedly profited more than $100,000 through these kiosks after discovering that the oddsmaker used by GambetDC routinely provided odds that varied significantly from more renowned operators.

Weeks later, he received a letter from Peter S. Alvarado, the D.C. Lottery’s Regulation and Oversight Division director. It alerted him that all his bets would be limited until further notice. Following his appeal, the city swiftly restructured its limit guidelines for all D.C. bettors in the name of public safety — otherwise known as problem gambling.

Moreover, Alvarado notified the bettor that he was limited to only $60 per wager and $1,000 daily at any venue in the District with a sports betting kiosk.

“We have seen (similar) instances in other jurisdictions where responsible problem gambling is a rationale for why someone is being limited,” Brianne Doura-Schawohl, the founder of Doura-Schawohl Consulting LLC, said in the meeting. “Having that very clear distinction about a case being a true problem or responsible gambling issue versus a justification that actually may not be authentic or truthful for that rationale, I believe, is very important here.”

The ‘Problem’ With Problem Gambling

In a perfect world, problem gambling would be thoroughly addressed through state-by-state sports betting revenue. Nevertheless, data points suggest otherwise. In the first gambling impact study since Connecticut launched sports betting and online casino gaming in Sept. 2021, researchers discovered that 71% of all legal gambling revenue in the state comes from roughly 7% of the population. A slice of this percentage is comprised of at-risk (4.9%) and problem gamblers (1.8%).

Additionally, one-third of Connecticut residents with betting problems were unaware of the state’s gambling helpline. Half also claimed to be uninformed of the state’s self-exclusion program, a formal process in which customers request that interactive gaming and sportsbook operators prevent them from using their gambling services.

Therefore, how many genuine problem gamblers are limited — when help is necessary? Not often enough. These numbers indicate that problem gamblers aren’t limited at the same rates as winning sports bettors. However, they’re disturbingly relied upon to raise the state’s sports betting revenue.

Suppose limits aren’t going to be defined — or will continue to fall under the “problem gambling” mantra — for the foreseeable future. In that case, greater emphasis should be placed on operator expansion, state-by-state, for the long haul.


If you or someone close to you is suffering from problem gambling, there are many paths to receive help. For one, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) provides many resources, including links to individual state organizations with various levels of support.

The NCPG also owns the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network. Call the toll-free helpline at 800-522-4700 any day or night, seven days a week. NCPG representatives are even ready to assist via live chat at

Photo by Associated Press