At this very moment, sports fans are a few seconds and a few clicks away from turning $10 into $200 on any sports betting app.

Sounds pretty good, doesnt it?

Considering FanDuel spent more than $1 billion on marketing last year, this is no secret but it is a relatively new phenomenon as more states legalize gambling across the country.

Yet although the legal gambling industry is booming like never before, an illegal market still exists. Globally, illegal sports bets add up to $1.7 trillion each year, according to a report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

Its the same thing as when the drinking age was increased from 18 to 21 a couple of decades ago, said Taylor Neil, Pickwise social media manager. There is still underage drinking, people are going to find ways to get alcohol, the same as sports betting. Its not an issue you can necessarily solve.

A changing landscape

Before the Supreme Courts 2018 decision to strike down the federal ban on state authorization of sports betting outside of Nevada, the sports gambling industry was ruled by black markets and illegal activity. Now, sportsbooks have partnerships with every major sports league and gambling content has found its way into legacy media on traditional platforms, such as TV and websites, along with social media.

Super Bowl 52 in 2018 is a prime example of the shift from then to now. Months before the original 1992 federal law was struck down by the Supreme Court, 97% of bets on the big game, equaling more than $4.6 billion, were wagered illegally across the United States, according to the American Gaming Organization.

Fast forward to 2023, and the American Gaming Organization released data showing that over 50 million Americans legally wagered a combined $16 billion on Super Bowl 57.

Whether or not all sports fans embrace betting, sportsbooks and odds have become increasingly prevalent in modern sports media.

From commercials to X promotions or even mid-broadcast sponsorship announcements, consuming sports without at least a hint of gambling-related content is seemingly impossible these days.

Its everywhere in terms of the media space, Neil said. Likely because people realized there is so much money involved and everyone wants a piece of that pie. Its pretty much inescapable. Any form of media you can think of, there is probably a sports betting ad for it.

Due to this rise in popularity and acceptance within the media, sports betting companies are bringing in more users and money than ever. The global sports betting market accounted for $83.65 billion in 2022 and is expected to expand at an annual rate of 10.3% from 2023 to 2030, according to Grandview Research.

In terms of user participation, the numbers are off the charts as well. Sports bettors legally wagered $310 million in June 2018 while that number hit $7 billion in October 2021 a 20-fold increase according to Bloomberg.

Age restrictions, however, limit who can bet.

In the United States, only 33 states and the District of Columbia have legal, operational sports betting. In those states, the minimum legal age to place a wager ranges from 18 to 21.

Despite the presence of illegality in 17 states, content such as ESPN Bet Live, gambling lines presented on the scoreboard, and even social media platforms like X and TikTok can be consumed nationwide.

No matter the fan, what they do, or their location, sports gambling has become increasingly accessible.

Although traditional forms of marketing and advertising will remain in place for years to come, sports gambling is gaining traction on social media platforms as well.

Sports gambling in the media

Traditional social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook will always play a large role in user consumption, but recently TikTok has become the focus for sportsbooks and betting companies alike.

Its worth noting that 67% of individuals ages 13-17 say they regularly use TikTok thats more than any other social media platform aside from YouTube according to a study conducted by Pew Research.

Furthermore, TikToks primary age demographic of 10-to-19-year-olds accounts for 32.5% of all users, according to Wallaroo media, surpassing Instagram as the social media platform with the most Gen Z users.

The majority of this demographic does not fit the age minimum required to legally gamble on sports in the U.S., even if located in a legal state.

One might think the legal issues would be enough to turn unqualified users away, but the $1.7 trillion in illegal wagers last year suggests otherwise to some degree.

Sports betting as a whole has become so widely popular that there are several full-time content creators making a living, and a good living at that, working with sportsbooks and other gambling companies to monetize the large following they have built.

Matt Tanner, known as MattyBetss on social media platforms, is one of these influencers. With over 200,000 followers across all of his social media platforms, Tanner has partnerships with PrizePicks, BetOpenly, Pikkit Sports and BetUS Sportsbook all of which are sports gambling companies.

Tanners content library is primarily made up of light-hearted videos that allow the audience to live vicariously through his personal wagers rather than direct gambling advice, attracting a new audience to sports betting while maintaining a space for existing bettors.

I wouldnt say it directly influences me, but I will admit that seeing a guy like Matty throw some coin on an underdog in March Madness for example, might make me want to place that same bet, Neil said.

Despite having content spread across numerous platforms, Tanner, as well as numerous other content creators, puts a primary focus on TikTok, where he has over 204,000 followers.

He originally set out posting his favorite bets periodically for fun, but it has turned into more than he could have ever imagined.

About a year into it, I thought since I kind of stumbled into this, maybe if I take it more seriously by hiring editors and making content more frequently to eventually create a side hustle, Tanner said. It went from a hobby to a side hustle to now its what I do full time.

With the majority of Tanners content published on TikTok comes the reality of minors viewing content beyond his control. Tanner said he has never targeted a specific demographic but recognizes a younger audience could potentially be consuming his content.

Between 60% to 80% of high school students have participated in gambling for money at least once in the past year, according to the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors.

While there are some slight measures parents can take to limit what their child might see on a platform like TikTok limiting screen time, muting notifications, prioritizing a new STEM Feed focused on educational content for the account it is difficult to eliminate a situation where an underage user might be viewing content like Tanners.

Its bringing in new eyes and a different style of content that you see working on social media platforms that are geared towards the younger generation, Neil said. With that, naturally, you are going to have users probably under the legal age of gambling seeing their content just naturally due to the algorithm.

Thats on TikTok, really, Tanner added. They have to monitor the age groups and the algorithm. I dont put out content telling underage people to bet, and I dont tell people to bet irresponsibly, either.

Although TikTok has a creator fund that compensates users for well-performing videos, the money is not enough to pay the bills. Instead, creators like Tanner rely on partnerships and affiliate marketing to earn their paychecks.

Affiliate marketing is an arrangement where the promoter, or affiliate, receives a commission on the traffic they generate while the consumer is awarded some sort of sale, bonus or gift in return.

Recognizing the reality, Tanner tries to be as open and honest as possible with his viewers when promoting a brand deal.

I think as long as youre transparent to your audience, thats the most important thing, Tanner said. Tell them whats in it for them. I believe a partnership goes both ways, we both get something in return.

Although influencers arent directly commanding their audience to sign up for a gambling company, the problem arises when companies indirectly target the younger, impressionable demographic on social media in order to receive more user sign-ups.

Young customers take priority

A recent example comes from the online gambling company Sportsbet, which targeted young female users on TikTok during Super Bowl week. Direct gambling promotions are banned, according to TikToks community guidelines, but the social media company allowed Sportsbet to target Australian users as part of a strictly controlled trial.

In this trial, which took place in the days leading up to Super Bowl 57, Sportsbet promoted a video in which a young woman brings attention to the novelty prop bets available for Rihannas halftime performance. (In this context, a prop bet market would allow people to bet on what outfit Rihanna would wear, what song she would perform first, or even how many total songs she would sing.)

Although it does not directly encourage this audience of young women to gamble, it goes to show the lengths some sports gambling companies are willing to go to grow their user base.

I wouldnt necessarily say companies are targeting the young, but the way some of the information is presented, like a game rather than a gamble, I can see how that could cause trouble, Neil said.

Luke Brennaman, known as BrennyLocks on social media platforms, attributes social media as one of the many effects of the rise in sports gamblings relevancy, but not the direct cause.

For the majority of people that do it (sports bet), I dont think its necessarily social media that directly gets them in it, but they see it on social media and then it takes one of their friends doing it to hook them up, Brennaman said.

Legal, mainstream gambling outlets such as FanDuel and DraftKings have a strict, no underage gambling policy that includes ID checks and social security confirmation in order to avoid anyone finding a loophole.

This issue of age is the primary reason FanDuel is one of the few major sportsbooks yet to sign a partnership with a collegiate athletics program. In contrast, offshore companies such as BetUS Sportsbook and Bovada, however, do not abide by the same guidelines.

Take BetUS Sportsbook for example. The gambling company only requires a users name, age, location and date of birth, along with completing email verification.

BetUS notes in its terms and conditions, In playing on the BetUS Website you are declaring to us that you are 18 years old or older. If the age limit for gambling in your country is greater than 18 years you declare that you are greater than the minimum age. Minors are not permitted to play at BetUS.

In other terms, there is no age verification but rather an honor code that individuals will be honest about their age.

The middle ground between traditional and offshore sportsbooks is Daily Fantasy Sports. Even in states where the legal age to gamble on sports is over 21, the age minimum is dropped to 18 years old for DFS.

While still a form of gambling, DFS is a relatively new phenomenon where users can wager on player statistics and individual performances rather than whole-game outcomes.

DFS companies such as Prizepicks require users to complete an age-verification process via submitting a photo ID, but the requirements are not nearly as thorough as running a social security number like FanDuel and DraftKings.

This middle ground is where many long-time bettors like Tanner believe kids are being introduced to betting due to the ease of access.

They have guidelines and laws for a reason, and you shouldnt lower those, Tanner said. If you have to be 18 to play DFS, maybe some 16-year-olds are going to do it. If you lower it, we have to wonder, are there 12-year-olds playing DFS and 15-year-olds with a sportsbook account?

Brennaman believes there is a reason for this, as only the companies strong enough to take the financial hit of turning away young customers can actually afford to turn away young customers.

All these sportsbooks are in the position where they dont need underage customers, Brennaman said. For startups like Prizepicks, like a Thrive Fantasy, like all these apps that are player-prop parlays but they get categorized under DFS. Theyre not going to go out of their way to crack down on you.

While the majority of mentioned companies are transparent about company operations and public data, the concern for parents comes further down the line. If all sports gambling platforms were organized in tiers, here is a rough estimate of what that would look like:

Tier 1: Legal Sportsbooks FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars, BetMGM, etc.

Tier 2: DFS Prizepicks, Underdog Fantasy, Betr

Tier 3: Offshore Sportsbooks BetUS, Bovada, BetOnline

The further down the tier list a bettor goes, the less likely they are to encounter any sort of age restrictions.

As time passes and more states begin to legalize sports betting, these offshore betting sites are having to compete against major corporations with a far superior marketing budget and legal team. As a result, offshore platforms are less likely to pursue action against underage users as they are desperate to grow their userbase.

Why the younger demographic?

Despite major sportsbooks having legitimate hoops to jump through in order to breach the age requirement, they still target the younger, social media-oriented demographic.

When it comes to young kids getting into it, I think everything is so focused on marketing to the younger audience, Brennaman said. Just the way the apps are set up, kind of bright in a way that makes it look appealing and easy.

Gino Donati the founder of BetOpenly, a peer-to-peer-based sports betting platform designed to reduce the percentage of juice compared to traditional sportsbooks credits this phenomenon to two things: Kids desire to obtain wealth and gambling companies want lifelong customers.

Every kid that I know wants to get rich quick. They arent bad kids, they are just trying to find shortcuts in life, Donati said. These companies are pumping out content that appeals to kids. The $1 to win $1 million 30-team parlays that are lottery tickets, theyre not putting out videos on how to research a pick, theyre putting out videos on how easy it is to bet a lottery ticket.

One of the most common sportsbook advertisements seen on both social media and traditional media is the risk-free bet, where a bettors first wager will be refunded as a way to attract new users.

Although not directly promoted by the companies hosting these wagers, Donati said seeing people win lottery ticket-type wagers on social media is one of the primary draws to join a sportsbook, especially for impressionable teenagers.

Owning and operating a sports betting platform himself, Donati has seen firsthand how impactful promoting on social media can be and notes the platform is by far the number one channel for BetOpenlys new user acquisition.

While recognizing that fast-paced, short-form content designed to retain attention performs well on social media and with the younger audience, Donati takes the educational approach.

My first version was all on social media talking about BetOpenly, which did fine, but it didnt do nearly as well as when I stopped talking about BetOpenly and started educating on gambling, Donati said. This appeals to everyone, and I often mention, Oh, by the way, I own BetOpenly.

I have an older audience because my content is educational and kids dont want to see that. Creators are now making mini films with an intro, body, and conclusion, and kids will stay attentive to those kinds of videos.

Even though kids will inevitably see content from creators like Donati, Tanner and Brennaman due to TikToks unpredictable algorithm, monetization comes from adult viewers.

The TikTok Creator Fund pays qualified users $0.02 to $0.04 per 1,000 views, which equates to roughly $20 to $40 per million views. In other words, the views obtained from a younger audience arent enough to sustain a full-time career.

Rather, these social media personalities make substantial money on user acquisition for affiliate companies. For example, BetUS pays affiliate marketers $100 for every user that signs up for the website using the influencers referral link or code.

We dont make money off of kids, Donati said. We need 18-21 year-olds but technically the kids liking the content, get the videos to reach further.

The same sentiment goes for the betting companies doing the advertising.

Thats the kicker. The content isnt directly promoted to underage users, but to reach a larger, more broad audience, the content has to be seen by every demographic.

So why exactly has this become an issue in the sports betting industry? It comes down to the root of the problem: being socially acceptable.

Kids always gamble, Donati said. I was literally a bookie in high school. I think whats changed the most is it was seen as a vice back then, but now its socially acceptable.

In five years, sports gambling has evolved from being viewed as a frowned-upon vice to now being socially acceptable and a regular topic in sports media.

Sports bettors, sportsbooks and social media companies havent exactly had time to plan for this boom in popularity, so there are bound to be some imperfections as the industry continues to grow.

One of those imperfections is an inconsistency of perception. Gambling is most certainly a vice, but its borderline celebrated in society and the media whereas other vices such as cigarettes are banned from being advertised.

If the reason you cant advertise cigarettes is because they are addictive, then shouldnt you not be allowed to advertise anything thats addictive? Donati said.

There is no direct solution for sports betting companies to combat the issue of attracting an underage audience, but the current state of advertising and social media certainly isnt helping the cause.

The sports betting industry is extremely compatible to beer companies and old-school cigarette companies in terms of marketing.

As more and more states legalize online sports betting, companies will make more money, spend more on advertising and in turn introduce more and more individuals to the concept of sports betting.

The same goes for social media. As time goes on, more people are going to join social media platforms and see this content, leading to more sports bettors in the country.

The kicker is, theres not much anyone, including the sportsbooks themselves, can do to tame this emphatic boom in popularity.

The industry is growing and money is being poured into marketing schemes by the millions. Similar to anything that can be considered a vice, there are bound to be some loopholes and rules broken along the way.

A lot of people want to point the finger at them (sportsbooks), but if you have a good product, youre going to market it and make money off of it, Brennaman said. If other people want to do illegal stuff with your product, you could say the same thing about a beer company.