By Anna McKenzie
Playing fantasy football has grown in popularity year after year, with over 62 million people participating in 2022, according to the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association. That means the number of participants has nearly doubled in the past decade (up from 32 million in 2010).
This can be attributed in part to the growing variety of contests and opportunities available, in addition to convenient access to league rankings, football statistics, streaming options, and sports reporting. Fantasy football contests, which are often free to join, are advertised regularly on mainstream media. Fantasy football is not only socially acceptable enough to be a workplace staple, but it’s also become a favored ritual and a vehicle for connection among friends and communities.
It’s no mystery, then, that the popularity, prospect of rewards, community aspect, cultural acceptance, and ease of entry have combined to create an activity with addictive qualities. But is fantasy football addiction a real possibility?
Can You Really Get Addicted to Fantasy Football?
To understand what constitutes a fantasy football addiction, it’s important to understand what constitutes an addiction. Addiction is characterized by a lack of control over a certain behavior that leads to life disruption. It’s a compulsion that a person is unable to curb in light of negative consequences, such as financial losses, broken relationships, job loss, damage to personal health, and even harm to others.
Most people will not become addicted to fantasy football, but it has qualities very similar to gambling that can make participation turn into obsession, to the point of life disruption.
You can still have an addiction even if you think your behavior isn’t harming anyone else. Addiction is about a lack of control, and it can alter the trajectory of your life. When a behavior has a strong reward value, it has addiction potential. Most people will not become addicted to fantasy football, but it has qualities very similar to gambling that can make participation turn into obsession, to the point of life disruption.
Is Fantasy Football Actually Gambling?
Fantasy football is not regulated like gambling because it is considered to be a “game of skill,” according to an MIT study and court rulings from states like New York, reports EmpireStates.com. Britannica defines gambling as “the betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident or have an unexpected result by reason of the bettor’s miscalculation.” It also states that gambling activities may include a combination of skill and chance (like poker).
Because fantasy football outcomes can be affected by the use of sports statistics, it’s not considered a gambling activity. However, it can be treated like a gambling activity, and it can be costly.
According to consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., fantasy football costs employers about $17 billion a year in lost productivity, and that was the estimate back in 2014. As recently as 2022, PayPal has been freezing funds related to fantasy football and March Madness pools because using its platform to place wagers is against their terms of service, says TheLines.com. And fantasy football betting is technically illegal in some states like Arizona, reports Phoenix Business Journal.
The financial impact of fantasy football is very similar to gambling. According to Money Nation, 85% of fantasy football players lose money, and just 1% make 91% of the profits. The odds of winning big are actually very poor: You are six times more likely to become a professional athlete than to win $135,000 playing fantasy sports.
Additionally, sports betting seems to be an adjacent activity for the core demographic of fantasy players. The Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association ran a demographics survey in 2022 and discovered the following about fantasy players:
- 67% are male
- 33% are female
- 48% are between ages 18-34
- 66% are employed full-time
- 69% make more than $40,000 per year
The demographics of sports bettors, reported in the same survey, are nearly identical — just a few variations in percentage points from the demographics of fantasy players. Whether fantasy football is considered gambling or not, a fantasy football gambling addiction can be very real.
Whether fantasy football is considered gambling or not, a fantasy football gambling addiction can be very real.
Symptoms of a Fantasy Football Gambling Addiction
So how can you know when your hobby is becoming a problem? According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the following are symptoms that your obsession may be developing into a gambling disorder:
- You’ve made repeated efforts to control your fantasy football activities with no success.
- You need to increase your stake in the game to experience more excitement.
- You turn to fantasy football when you feel distressed, joining more leagues or contests.
- You resort to lying or hiding your activities (and how much money you’ve lost).
- You need to borrow money to pay off your fantasy football losses.
- You’re risking close relationships or a job to play fantasy football.
- You are unable to control frequent thoughts about past or planned fantasy football activities.
When a compulsion to play fantasy football — or take part in any activity — starts taking over your life, in spite of negative consequences, it’s time to seek help.
Help for Gambling Addiction
According to the APA, gambling addiction often runs in families, and a background of trauma and social inequality can be risk factors. If you are a young adult who suffers from compulsive gambling behaviors, the Claudia Black Young Adult Center can help. With our proven programs and compassionate treatment, we can help you break free from the behaviors that are disrupting your livelihood so you can enjoy greater life satisfaction. Contact our team today to learn more about how we can help!