If you’re living in Pennsylvania, one thing is certain: Jamie Foxx would like you to gamble on sports.
Via incessant television commercials, billboards, pop-up ads and (presumably) subliminal messaging, you’ve likely seen the Oscar-winning star encourage you to download one of the many sports-betting apps available to residents of the Keystone State. It’s no wonder that there’s such a push; gambling is very big business, and unlike many activities, it is largely unaffected by the pandemic.
Except for me, that is.
I used to have a rule with sports bets: If I wanted to wager on a game, I had to do it in person. If I was in the mood to put a modest bet down on the Lakers (as it is generally not advisable to bet against the Lakers, unless Lebron is taking the day off), I had to physically go to Rivers Casino and do it at their Sportsbook. To me, the apps made it too easy; I didn’t want to be tempted to throw money around on a daily basis simply because the opportunity to do so was in my pocket.
Now, of course, there’s a different rule. While casinos have been open, on and off, throughout the pandemic, I’m not going to add a trip and mask up for something I can easily do from home.
(The actual occasion for changing my policy, by the way, was this summer when I noticed that the over/under on Pirates wins for the year was at 25.5. In a year full of uncertainty, nothing was more certain than the fact that the Buccos were not going to win 26 games. In fact, they only won 19. I should’ve wagered way, way more.)
I’m not someone who bets big money on sports; my normal stake is $10, or maybe $20 if I’m feeling particularly confident. I do, however, think it’s a fun way to get myself a bit more invested in a game. So, particularly as the NBA season started, I downloaded an app — admittedly, it was the one Jamie Foxx wanted me to download — and started experimenting.
The good news: Yes, it’s easy (even for those of us not well-versed in betting parlance), it’s quick and it makes watching a game more heightened. The bad news: All of those things. Gambling addiction is a real problem, and these apps make it easy to keep betting and bet bigger.
In lieu of my “only bet in-person” rule, then, here are a few tips on how to enjoy the gambling services being aggressively marketed to us without developing a bad habit.
- Only bet if you’re going to watch. At any given moment, you can bet on a staggering variety of contests taking place around the world. I just opened my app and found that, if I were inclined, I could put money down on the outcome of tomorrow morning’s tilt between the Melbourne Renegades and the Sydney Thunder of the Australian Big Bash Cricket League. (Obviously, the Thunder are the favorites.) Rather than wager indiscriminately, though, consider only betting on a game you plan to actually watch. Sports gambling is best as an enhancement, not as the main course — and this will prevent you from firing off bets too freely.
- Don’t mess around with in-game betting. Every app and sportsbook wants you to make additional bets in the middle of the game, on outcomes ranging from which team will win the scoring in a particular quarter down to who’s going to put points on the board next. I find this incredibly stressful; instead of hoping that your team pulls ahead over the course of a few hours, you’re hoping for arbitrary performance over the next few minutes. I’d skip it.
- Stay out of the virtual “casino.” Most sports-betting apps also have casino betting, allowing you to play slots, roulette and most table games. I like slot machines in the real world, but compared to sports betting, they are a very fine way to lose money quickly. Place your bet, put the phone down and watch the game — don’t accidentally lose more than you stand to win on your sports wager because you started pulling a virtual slot lever while you were waiting.
- Don’t bet anything you need. Professional sports gamblers may be able to work the margins and place big bets on a regular basis, but for most of us, it is ludicrous to wager a thousand bucks on whether the Rangers will beat the Devils by three goals or two. Think of any money you spend on sports betting as part of your entertainment budget, like money you would spend going out to eat or buying albums; never, under any circumstances, bet an amount that would hurt to lose.
If you throw $10 or $20 on a game you’re watching every now and then, you’ll be pleased if you win and barely bruised if you lose. That, I think, is the way to handle the stunning availability of sports betting now sitting in all of our pockets.
And it’s not like we’re not going to try it. What, you’re going to say no to Jamie Foxx?
If you or someone you know may have a problem with gambling, call 1-800-GAMBLER.