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The rise in sports betting and gambling violations by pro athletes, in 4 charts

By Annette Choi, CNN

(CNN) — As the sports betting industry continues to rake in record-breaking revenue, a growing number of professional athletes have become entangled in gambling scandals and gambling addiction helplines are reporting a rise in calls and text messages from people asking for help.

Earlier this month, Major League Baseball (MLB) banned San Diego Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano for betting on games. The National Basketball Association (NBA) banned Toronto Raptors player Jontay Porter ahead of the 2024 playoffs for violating betting rules. MLB also issued one-year suspensions to four other players.

These are the latest in a series of gambling violations among pro athletes in recent years, after the US Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting in 2018. Although leagues had historically opposed it, betting has become increasingly ingrained in US sports culture.

“The longstanding prohibition against betting on Major League Baseball games by those in the sport has been a bedrock principle for over a century. We have been clear that the privilege of playing in baseball comes with a responsibility to refrain from engaging in certain types of behavior that are legal for other people,” MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred said when Marcano’s ban was announced.

As pro athletes deal with the ramifications of betting on games, a growing number of people are also grappling with mental health issues associated with sports betting. Gambling addiction hotlines across the country have reported a huge surge in traffic in recent years. Texts and chats to the National Problem Gambling Helpline have increased around 800% since 2018 while call volume grew nearly 80%.

The national helpline received nearly 359,000 calls and messages last year. But that figure doesn’t offer a complete picture of the requests for help. The national helpline is not able to break out what share of incoming traffic is related to sports betting. State helplines, however, experienced similar upswings after their states approved sports gambling.

Calls and messages to the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, for example, increased 277% from fiscal year 2018 — when the state first legalized sports betting — to 2022. The Problem Gambling Network of Ohio recorded a 66% surge in call volume in 2023, the first year of legalized sports betting in the state.

The annual national social cost of problem gambling — including job loss and gambling-related criminal justice — amounts to around $14 billion, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. An estimated 2.5 million adults in the US “meet the criteria for a severe gambling problem in a given year.”

As more people reach out for help, however, the sports betting industry is seeing profits skyrocket. Sports gambling revenue grew from $7.6 billion in 2022 to $11 billion in 2023, according to the American Gaming Association. The first quarter of this year alone brought in $3.33 billion — a 22% annual increase over the first quarter of 2023.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, Nevada was the only state where sports betting was legal.

Now, gamblers can bet on sports legally in 38 states plus Washington, DC, according to the American Gaming Association.

There’s been an explosion of advertising for sports betting companies in arenas and during broadcasts of games, like the Super Bowl, which feature celebrity sponsors and athletes. Leagues, franchises and networks have also started partnering with betting companies. NBA star LeBron James, for example, became a “talent ambassador” for Draft Kings — a popular digital sports betting company — earlier this year, and ESPN launched an official sports betting platform in 2023.

The explosive growth of sports betting has some concerned about gambling and addiction. Despite signing a bill legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts in 2022, former Gov. Charlie Baker — who is now the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association — reportedly said he wished “sports betting had just stayed in Las Vegas” at a convention in the city this week. In January, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Andrea Salinas introduced the Gambling Addiction Recovery, Investment, and Treatment Act, which would use federal funding to treat and study problem gambling.

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