Study finds ‘statistically significant’ link between playing team sports and gambling

Authors note need for greater insight into relationship between gambling and sport in the context of advertising

Young men who play team sports in Ireland are four times more likely to participate in gambling on a regular basis than those who did not play any team game between the ages of 17 and 20, new research states.

A study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Higher Education Authority found a “statistically significant positive association” between participation in team sports and regular gambling among young males.

The study into the connection between gambling behaviours and participation in team sports found almost one in 10 young adults participate in online gambling by the age of 20.

Online gambling

The findings, published in the Journal of Gambling Studies, state that the propensity of young men who play team sports to gamble was entirely independent of any other socio-demographic factor such as education, household background and employment status. However, the study found no association between females who play team sports and gambling habits.


It revealed that levels of online gambling increased over the space of three years from 2.6 per cent of 17-year-olds to 9.3 per cent by the time the same individuals reached 20, a rise driven by males. The proportion of males aged 20 who gamble online (15.8 per cent) is some five times greater than the female rate (2.9 per cent).

The results show that 7.2 per cent of all 20-year-olds are classified as regular gamblers — placing bets at least once a month. However, 11.6 per cent of males in that age group are regular gamblers, compared to just 2.7 per cent of females.

The findings are based on an analysis of longitudinal data on more than 4,500 young adults from the Growing Up in Ireland study.

The research shows online and regular gambling rates are highest among young people who participated in team sports when they were aged 17 and 20. Twelve per cent of those who played a team sport at both ages are regular gamblers compared to 3.1 per cent who never played any team sport.

The authors of the study said there was need for greater insight into the relationship between gambling and sport given the extent to which sport is heavily targeted by gambling advertising. They noted that sports have been used as a vehicle for normalising gambling, which was portrayed as intrinsic to the events being bet on.

Risk of exposure

The authors also observed that gambling availability and participation rates have increased globally to historically unprecedented levels over the past 30 years. They pointed out that past studies had found that up to 3 per cent of the population can have a gambling addiction which normally peaks before the age of 30.

In addition, the study said young people were at high risk of exposure to online gambling, particularly due to the decline of traditional modes of gambling during the Covid-19 pandemic. It also shows more regular alcohol consumption, cannabis use and being in employment are associated with higher rates of gambling on a frequent basis.

“A detailed understanding of young people’s gambling behaviours will assist parents, educators and policymakers in developing policies to improve young people’s awareness of factors which contribute to gambling behaviours,” stated the authors.

The study noted it was not possible to examine if there were differences between types of team sports and gambling levels, but this was a subject that “merits scholarly investigation”.