Gambling Addiction Is A Nasty, Nasty Thing

There’s a series from the criminal complaint against Ippei Mizuhara that I want to highlight; one which, when reading, I was moved to something not far off from pity. Which is maybe a strange feeling to have for a man accused of stealing $16 million from someone who trusted him completely, but just give a look:

  • On Jan. 2, 2022, Mizuhara asked his bookmaker for a “bump”—an increase in his line of betting credit because he had maxed out with losses. “Reload my account? I lost it all.”
  • On Jan. 15 Mizuhara again sought a credit increase. “Fuck I lost it all lol … can you ask [BOOKMAKER 1] if he can bump me 50k? That will be my last one for a while if I lose it.”
  • It was not his last one for a while. On March 6 Mizuhara wrote, “Anyway you can bump me a little bit? I will wire you my losses on Wednesday if that is ok. I need to wait a week to send another big wire.”
  • On Nov. 14 Mizuhara wrote, “I’m terrible at this sport betting thing huh? Lol … Any chance u can bump me again?? As you know, you don’t have to worry about me not paying!!”
  • On Dec. 9 Mizuhara wrote, “Can u bump me last 200? I swear on my mom this will be the last ask before I pay it off once I get back to the states. Sorry for keep on asking…”
  • On June 22, 2023, Mizuhara wrote, “I got my ass kicked again lol … Any chance I can get one last bump? This will be my last one for a while if I lose it …”
  • The next day, June 23: “I’m the worst lol … can’t catch a break … Can I get one last bump? I swear this is gonna be my last until I get the balance down significantly … I promise this will be the last bump for a while.”
  • The next day, June 24: “I have a problem lol … Can I get one last last last bump? This one is for real … Last one for real”
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To remind you, Mizuhara was allegedly placing an average of 25 bets per day, with an average bet around $13,000—and it wasn’t enough. He needed more, and he wasn’t above begging for a bump (a noun choice that perhaps fittingly is associated with a certain other vice), or pleading or bargaining for just a few more, or literally swearing on his mother that this would be the last time. Does any of this sound familiar? If gambling addiction is generally a more private struggle than other more commonly recognized forms of addiction, it presents in much the same ways.

Gambling addiction is every bit as neurochemical as drug addiction, even if it’s one’s own body pumping out the rewards. Something like one percent of Americans are problem gamblers, which means 3 million people potentially wired like Ippei Mizuhara are walking around—and their vulnerability is treated like a demographic to be marketed to. Legalized sports betting has rolled over the American sports experience like a wave, soaking the willing and unwilling, and drowning some hapless number. Many of these might never have discovered they were problem bettors if betting hadn’t been made available in their pocket.

You can say that Mizuhara’s case is a different thing, that DraftKings will never extend you credit until you’re $40 million in the hole. This is true. But people with addictions have other ways of feeding the beast. Maybe they will steal money from their friends; maybe they will steal money from strangers; maybe they will sell all their stuff, or stop paying their rent. Betting is an especially pernicious vice because, unlike with drink or drug, you can tell yourself that you can get back to where you used to be with just one run of good luck. No one hooked on opioids tries to convince themselves that more pills might permanently cure their problem; bettors believe it every day. And some number of people who never placed a bet in their lives before being saturated with ads for betting apps will discover that the thrills and swings of legalized betting are no longer big enough for them, and find their way to illegal bookmakers like Mizuhara’s.

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The apps make it oh so easy to get pulled deeper. They release new promos and odds boosts throughout the day, at random times, to keep you forever opening the app. (FanDuel, which tracks this for you, tells me I opened it five times yesterday, and already twice this morning.) They gamify the experience, which is a sick thing to say about Literally Betting, by giving you rewards points and awarding you bonus bets upon certain losses. They have you and they do not wish to let you go. Last month, seven of the largest betting companies in the U.S. announced they are banding together to launch an association to encourage responsible gaming. They are funding it with just $20 million, combined.

I’m one of those people who never really bet before it was legalized in my state. I started small and simple: $2 basic moneyline bets were my standard wager. Something for a little spice on top of the game-watching experience. It’s up to $5 or $10 bets now, and I bet parlays which I know offer terrible odds, and I bet on games I don’t even watch, sports I don’t even follow. It’s no longer spice; it’s the meal. I’m not exactly pleased with this behavior. But I haven’t gotten myself into trouble yet, and I tell myself I could stop if I wanted to. Does that sound familiar, too?

You never hear about this stuff, because no one wants to talk about their demons, and unlike more visible forms of addiction you can’t identify a problem gambler at a glance. The textual evidence of Mizuhara’s spiral into addiction is a rare window, then, on the mindset and behavior of millions of Americans, a number that’s only going to increase as legal betting spreads. It’s ugly, isn’t it? Apparently not so ugly that America as a country decided it couldn’t live with it as an inevitability. I’m not for banning betting. But also wish there was at least some pushback on a heedless tsunami of betting advertising that treats every potential victim as a customer, or a culture that announces at every turn just how much more it cares about money than people.

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