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Illegal sports gambling doesn’t pay

Sept. 11, 2017

Former sports gambling addict Don Weinberger speaks during a news conference.
Photo: “It cost me almost everything,” says Don Weinberger of his sports gambling addiction. Organized sports betting is illegal in Minnesota.


First it was the VCR. Don Weinberger told his 4-year-old it was going out to be repaired. Then it was a car, then their motorhome. And finally, Weinberger lost his family’s home of 15 years because he couldn’t stop betting on sports.

Believe it or not, though, Weinberger’s fate could have been worse. That’s because sports gambling is illegal in the state of Minnesota. Terry Kelley, a special agent at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, reminds the public of that fact as football season starts up again and the Twin Cities prepare to host the Super Bowl: “While it is okay for two friends to place a friendly wager between them, organized sports betting is illegal. If you’re giving or accepting money or something of value and you’re paying out prizes, it’s going to be illegal.”

Agent Kelley adds, “Not only can you face charges, but the bars and restaurants where this occurs can face regulatory sanctions, fines, and have their licenses suspended or revoked.” Unfortunately, it’s fairly common: Almost $5 billion was wagered on the Super Bowl last year, most of it illegal.

But why does it matter? Agent Kelley says people often ask him, “It’s not the crime of the century, nobody’s getting hurt, why do you bother with it?” His answer: “It has no consumer protections. How do you know that what you’re doing is fair? How do you know that if you win, you’re going to get paid?”

But perhaps the most compelling reason not to gamble on sports is the devastating effect it can have on your life, and that of your family. Don Weinberger, for example, always had a sports page in his back pocket. He was always glued to the TV or radio, and always had to be by a phone. In short, he wasn’t the husband, father, coworker, relative he should be. He rarely made it to birthdays and holidays with his family and friends.

“It cost me almost everything,” says Weinberger. “It changed my personality, my behavior, and I was not the kind of person I should be, all because of what I thought was going to be something to make games interesting and fun to watch and I might even have a chance to win some money at it.”