Friday, February 9, 2024

The Issue I Will Have with the Superbowl

It's not Taylor Swift.  I don't care about Taylor Swift.  I mean, not at all.  I follow her in the same way that I follow Jai-alai.  When the cameras inevitably switch to her for a reaction shot, it may as well be to a shot of any other random entertainment billionaire in the fancy one-percenter boxes.  Eh.  So what?  Big deal.  

But there is something about the upcoming Superb Owl that is going to bother me, and bother me a whole bunch.  Because something has changed, and changed for ill, both in football and across the country.

I was recently walking through my home "town" in the Northern Virginia suburbs, where I passed a little laundromat.  In that laundromat, something caught my eye.

It was filled with day laborers, more than a dozen able bodied men, because that stretch of Little River Turnpike is where such men gather for whatever work they can get. They were all staring intently at the one wall not lined with washers or dryers. Against that wall were three huge vertically oriented screens, each of which were splashing the room with a shifting array of bright colors and the simulated spinning of three sets of numbers and symbols. They were Slot Machines Two Point Oh, and all were transfixed. Three men gambled, and a room spectated, entranced by the game of chance. 

Is that legal in the state of Virginia? Not really, although as our society continues to move more and more away from the Bedford Falls of George Bailey and slouches towards the crass brassy clatter of Pottersville, I’m not sure anyone cares.

In my neck of the woods, there’s also a push to drop in a casino in the Tysons Corner area, because development business growth revenue something something. Mostly, it’s because gambling is a wildly profitable business, and gambling is happy to feed the political beast with donations and the promise of lazy, predatory revenue. This is a fat season for American gambling, as anyone who pays any attention to sports at all will know. Since the Supreme Court sided with New Jersey in a case five years ago, sportsbetting has exploded. FanDuel, the most successful of these businesses and a subsidiary of the Dublin-based multinational conglomerate Flutter, saw a 600% increase in use and a similar increase in profit between 2019 and 2022.

With FanDuel, you can gamble from your phone, gamble all the time, bet on every play in a game, never ever stop gambling, dopamine hit after dopamine hit until you’ve maxed out all your cards and drained every account. It’s wildly successful, virally successful, a perfect storm that “leverages the synergies” between gambling’s addictive qualities and the operant conditioning techniques that corporate clinical psychologists have woven into contemporary app design.

When the Superbowl is broadcast from Vegas...and there's a reason it's in Vegas, honeychild...there’ll be a great onslaught of ads telling us just how much fun it is to gamble. 

My Scots blood helps inoculate me against this siren song.  I’m cheap as dirt and have more than a wee bit of lingering Calvinist cynicism about bright lights and shiny objects.  

I can’t, however, miss the impact it has on those who get hooked on false hope and dopamine, who can’t afford to lose the money they bet, the people who’ve hit bottom, who are driving a 100% increase in calls to addiction hotlines over the last two years.  The flacks for the gambling "industry" swear up and down that this is because they inde that little warning in their ads, but c'mon.

We're not idiots.

I'll enjoy the game, although not as much as I would had either Detroit or Baltimore made it.  

But every time I see an gambling ad...for DraftKings, for FanDuel, or MGM...I'll recoil.