Sports betting has been legal in New York for 16 months. How has it impacted Knicks fans? I surveyed 1,600 fans to find out, and the results were shocking.

Daniel Shabtai
9 min readApr 14, 2023

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I bet that if you’ve watched any sports game broadcast at all over the last twelve months, you’ve seen at least one advertisement for sports betting. In fact, I’d bet that you’ve seen a lot more than just one. I’d go so far as to bet that you’ve seen hundreds of betting advertisements and for some of you, thousands. Sports betting has quickly oozed into every open orifice surrounding any game from any sport: during commercials, on the courts, in the broadcast booth, next to scores, essentially anywhere you can fit either text or an image or soundbite, there’ll be some kind of reference to sports betting. It would be nearly impossible to have been a sports fan over the last year and not have known that sports betting has been legalized.

I hold the unfortunate and occasionally unseemly distinction of being a life-long Knicks fan. Not something I would advise to the general public. One of the things I’ve noticed since the beginning of last year was the seemingly supersaturation of betting advertisements during Knicks game broadcasts. I’m not one to actively pay attention to commercials but the never ending flow of betting advertisements was about as easy to ignore as the summer heat smell in an underground subway station.

My curiosity finally evolved into action a few weeks ago. I started to mark down every commercial that was aired during a Knicks MSG channel broadcast and counted up how many were for betting advertisements. I also marked down every time betting was referenced in the game itself (outside of a commercial break). Over a three game sample, there were on average 18 separate commercial breaks during each broadcast (not including pre-or post game), and each block of advertisements featured on average six different commercials. Twelve of the 18 commercial breaks featured an outright advertisement for a sports betting company. Those advertisements were essentially in two different styles: 1) featuring a “promo code” for first time bettors, which allows user to recuperate their money if their first bet is a loss, but only in site credits, and 2) featuring a “live-line”, where during the advertisement the current “spread”, or how many points one team was favored by, is displayed, to show how the “line” has changed during the course of a game. Commercials that featured promo codes usually featured either retired players or famous celebrities or both. In two of the breaks that didn’t feature an outright advertisement for sports betting, there were advertisements for different studio shows that are focused on sports betting. One other commercial break typically featured an advertisement for the lottery. Interestingly, nearly all of the advertisements for sports betting were either the first or last commercial aired during each block of commercials. This might explain why they feel more frequent than other commercials, although to some extent, they are.

Aside from the commercial breaks, betting is featured throughout the broadcast itself. In Madison Square Garden for example, there is an advertisement on the hardwood court itself and another advertisement for a different sports betting company on the pad surrounding the basket. Sometimes, the electronic sideline advertisements also display ads for various betting companies. There were on average two split-screen in-game commercials for sports betting as well, separate from commercial breaks. There was also at least one segment in the broadcast which was presented by a betting company. Oh and by the way, if this wasn’t enough, MSG occasionally broadcasts a second viewing of Knicks’ games on a separate channel called Betcast, where you guessed it, they talk about betting throughout the entirety of the game. The statistics above were for the regular broadcast.

I became more curious about the effects of the frequency of betting commercials and I wondered specifically how effective the promo code commercials were. I created a brief questionnaire that I posted in the Knicks main Reddit page as well as posted to my account on Twitter. I also asked various Knicks’ fan accounts with large followings on Twitter to post a link to the survey as well. The questionnaire featured a brief demographic variable section (age, marital status, income, gender), a handful of questions about how often they watch Knicks games and through which mediums, their betting habits over the last twelve months, as well as a brief gambling screen upon the advice of my dissertation supervisor, that has been used in research studies. I was not anticipating more than 100–150 people and would have been satisfied with less, but I received 1,648 responses, which surprised me, but wasn’t nearly as surprising as the results.

The demographic breakdown was one of the first surprising results to me because 30% of all responses were female, which I did not expect. Nearly 65% of the total sample were between the ages of 18–30, and 50% of the total sample earned less than $75,000 in 2022. Two thirds of the sample watched at least 20% of all Knicks games this season, and almost the same amount of people reported either being in a relationship or married.

In terms of betting trends, 84% of people surveyed reported living in a state with legalized gambling, and 72% reported having placed a bet in the last 12 months. Interestingly, 40% of people reported that they have never bet in any form before gambling was legalized. The majority of bettors use an app to place bets, although there was a significant amount of people who have placed bets with a bookie in the last 12 months. Fanduel was the most frequently used app, followed by DraftKings. 65% of people reported using a promo code they have seen in a commercial. This seems like an enormous number and might speak to the influence of the betting commercials.

The gambling screen I used is called the Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen (BBGS). The BBGS consists of three questions:

  1. During the past 12 months, have you become restless, irritable or anxious when trying to stop/cut down on gambling?
  2. During the past 12 months, have you tried to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you gambled?
  3. During the past 12 months did you have such financial trouble as a result of your gambling that you had to get help with living expenses from family, friends or welfare?

This is how the responses broke down:

I posted these charts here in an effort to convey just how unbelievable these results are. Specifically, I think the first and third question are most telling. The second question, which discusses concealing amounts bet from family and friends, may have more to do with the social acceptance of sports betting more than indicate problematic gambling. However, almost half of the survey reported feeling restless/irritable/anxious when trying to cut down/stop sports betting. This is an enormous number. Secondly, nearly 38% of the entire survey reported having to borrow money to cover living expenses due to gambling. These results are way higher than I would have anticipated.

I added one question of my own to the BBGS asking participants if they have reached out to a therapist because of a sports betting issue.

I felt that reaching out to a therapist due to issues with gambling is a good barometer for gauging problematic gambling, and 40% of all people said they had in fact reached out to a therapist because of sports gambling. This again seems like an astronomically high number, although a potential silver lining here is that people who are experiencing functional impairment due to sports betting are seeking out help to manage it. As a therapist myself, I have seen a slight increase in clients who have reached out because of a gambling related issue in my own private practice.

These results are troubling to say the least. An astonishing 625 out of 1,648 people reported needing to borrow money to cover living expenses due to sports betting. These numbers are absurdly high. Previous estimates of “gambling addiction” (and I don’t love that phrase, but that’s for another post) rates in the US were between 1–5% of the total population. I would imagine that number would trend slightly higher among sports fans. However, the fact that almost four out of ten people in this 1,600+ person survey are reporting significant impairment (and needing to borrow money for living expenses absolutely is significant impairment) due to gambling is stark to say the least.

Most telling to me is that two thirds of all respondents reported using a promo code from commercials when betting. The estimates of gambling addiction (again, don’t like that phrase) that were between 1–5% were for BLB -Before Legal Betting. It would be difficult to imagine that millions of young Americans sports fans who are being inundated with direct betting advertisements, as well as a constant stream of indirect references to sports betting in the coverage of games, not engage in problematic sports betting behaviors at a higher clip than before.

There are many reasons why this survey needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Chief among them is that the responses were taken primarily from Reddit and Twitter users, as well as some word of mouth, and it’s unclear if non-social media using sports fans are gambling at the same rates. Additionally, this survey was asking Knicks fans specifically about their experiences and that might not be generalizable to other markets that have their own legalities as well as television networks which may or may not display betting advertisements as often. What this survey does tell us is that among Knicks fans who use social media, there is a significant amount of people who might be engaging in problematic gambling, so much so that they’ve needed to borrow money from friends or family to cover living expenses.

It would be hard to come to the conclusion that legalization on its own has caused this potential surge in problematic gambling. It seems however, that the constant encouragement of gambling and the plethora of celebrities and former athletes who are parading around on your television talking about your potential winnings might be a part of the problem. What do you think the societal tolerance would be for commercials with Kevin Garnett or Jamie Foxx smoking cigarettes and talking about how relaxing they can be? We don’t allow that because we recognize that smoking cigarettes can lead to a myriad of negative consequences and we shouldn’t be encouraging young adults to smoke, which is why there is a minimum age of 18 to buy cigarettes. Making cigarettes illegal would only compound the issue, but taking the step of not allowing advertisements for smoking has potentially helped curb adolescent use. Why are we allowing sports betting, which you have to be 18 for and can lead to a host of negative consequences, to overrun our television sets? If you are a 12 year old watching most games of your favorite team or teams, and you’re exposed to literally thousands of direct and indirect sports betting references by the time you turn 18, what are the odds that this person won’t bet? I bet you they will. And worst case, if I lose, I’ll get my money back (in site credits).

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Daniel Shabtai
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Psychotherapist. Adjunct Professor (@PaceUniversity). PhD student. Passionate about mindfulness, therapy, coping, alternate responses to stress, and the Knicks.