Money laundering, racketeering, illegal gambling– Bergen County, New Jersey just got a little more interesting. A investigation which started back in February culminated in early June with proof of 29 adults participating in an online sports gambling ring which allegedly accrued about $3 million in a year.
The investigation shows that the participants were very aware of the illegal acts they were promoting; similar to other Internet gambling services, the group used a “wire room” where wagers could be placed and managed through websites in order to skirt law enforcement. Bettors and agents behind the ring used code names and passwords as another method to avoid detection.
While gambling rings of this scale don’t often appear in the news, gambling is still very much a part of American life, particularly sports gambling. Over half of all American adults bet on the Superbowl every year, and 67% of college students bet on sports in general. Even though Nevada is the only state where sports gambling is completely legal, regulated, and taxed, sports gambling makes up 13% of all gambling worldwide. One thing is clear: we love our gambling and we’re willing to risk everything for it. But why?
The psychology behind gambling is predictably complex, especially in cases such as the recent Bergen County fiasco, but it still plays an important part in everyday (and legal) gambling. Economist Steven Levitt, the bestselling co-author of “Freakonomics,” argues that the human tendency to pick favorites actually tilts the point spread and could made other contenders more likely to win. Essentially, according to Levitt, your natural human inclinations are probably working against you when you gamble unless you make a conscious effort to be aware of your own bias.
Perhaps a similar psychology is behind the 29 adults who are being investigated in Bergen County–did a bettor or agent become too confident in the ring’s success and develop a false sense of security, allowing for the government to sneak in? We can only wait as the story develops.