By Adam Floujeh
It’s the first Saturday of the 2022-23 NHL season, the day of the week hockey fans value more than any other. Families gather around their televisions for Hockey Night in Canada. The broadcast starts as always with video montages of the players everyone has tuned in to watch, the exuberant crowd-pleaser Saturday Night by Jane’s Party and Shawnee Kish blasting from the screen and, later, the play-by-play commentary that sets the scene for the big game. The show goes ahead as normal, the rinkside reporters giving the audience the latest news about the players drawing in and out the lineup, the panelists previewing the matchups ahead. Except this time something new has come along with the start of the season. Ron MacLean, the veteran host, throws to a new segment: Cabbie Presents: Draft Kings Sportsbook.
This section of the show has longtime sports-media personality and Executive Producer of Sportsnet’s Betting Content, Cabbie Richards, presenting betting information to viewers across Canada. Viewers are introduced to betting lingo like: Moneylines – simply a bet that includes odds – and Over/Unders – a bet on a certain statistic being higher or lower in a game – all that and more. And it’s not just the pre-show that has these segments, but it also happens during intermissions, and in between numerous commercials. On this October night, watching a game turns out impossible without consuming betting content.
Why all this? Because the 2022-23 NHL season saw Rogers Communications, the holders of NHL National broadcast rights in Canada, introduce sports betting segments to its NHL programming. This included the fabled Hockey Night in Canada and with it, a new era where Canadian sports fans would get exposed to sports betting like they had never been before.
It all began more than five months ago. A date that many avid gamblers in Ontario will all remember is April 4, 2022. Prior to it, the only legal forms of gambling in the province were parlays (a bet where a bettor makes multiple wagers and puts them together). But starting that fateful day, however, single-game betting was legalized – bets that are based on the outcome and events of a single game or event.
Some fans might consider the abundance of betting ads as a simple annoyance, yet the harsh reality was that this became a proverbial open door to a mental health crisis. One person with such a story is Dom Luszczyszyn.
A national NHL writer for The Athletic Luszczyszyn’s work mainly focuses on the use of data using a Game Score Model of his own creation. The program measures the quality of a team based on the individual players playing. This information is used to project a multitude of things such as a team’s playoff chances, standings, and even determining the true market value of a player’s contract. Luszczyszyn says “It was everything all at once, where it was for gambling, but it was trying to measure player value as well and then it turned into this massive thing. Because anything I wanted to measure, I would go back to the model and start there.”
Initially, the model had proved to be profitable as when it dealt with a large sample, and betting, it became a significant secondary source of income for Luszczyszyn. He started publishing NHL betting guides to The Athletic. The guides included information like win possibilities and wagering advice for readers. The backing of the game score model separated Luszczyszyn’s guides from the average betting article.
The confidence that came with the model’s history of success gave him the idea that even when the numbers started going down, the possibility of everything turning around was still present in his mind. But when the numbers did go down so did Luszczyszyn – or at least his mental health did. In a 2022 Twitter thread, Luszczyszyn went public with his struggles in relation to sports wagering. He published a chart that showed his wins and losses from the 2021-22 NHL season. Despite it being a good season overall for him, he says the down days hit him hard. The shame of his published betting pieces added to the mental strain.
“The fact that it was public was incredibly taxing. And every day, especially during the worst days, I just felt horrible, just putting it out there. And the thought of losing people’s money, I think, was just really weighing on me. I’m fine with losing my own money. It’s just other people, it was just not something I wanted to do at all.”
The losses affected his personal life as well. Dom says his friends would bet with him, losing their bets and feeling just as bad as him but not trying to bring attention to it for their pal’s sake. Some losses just felt like a joke the universe was playing on him. “It’s just tough when the teams you bet on seem like good bets and then lose in the cruelest ways possible, where it feels like the hockey gods are specifically targeting you.”
He emphasizes that his then-girlfriend was extremely supportive of him but there were speed bumps.
“She asked if I should stop betting I think a month or two before I did. In my mind because it was so tied to my self worth, I felt like she didn’t believe in me. I didn’t stop because it needed to be my choice and not hers. I wanted to feel like there was faith in this thing that I’ve always been good at. I was living on the edge and I was ok with it because I thought it only affected me, but it was also affecting her because she was with me all the time. Me being on the edge meant that she was also living on an edge that she didn’t sign up for. It was a taxing part of our relationship.”
In September, Luszczyszyn announced on Twitter that he would no longer be publishing daily game probabilities and betting advice guides for the 2022-2023 NHL season. He’s since been critical of the way sports gambling is being presented to audiences “There are all these people who fake being betting experts telling you what to do, and with no accountability, it just feels like they’re feeding into the machine a bit. I don’t think anyone should be saying what to do in terms of bets without showing what they’ve done in the past. I feel like there needs to be transparency and accountability, a mandate in terms of the ethics of just telling people what bet to make.”
Luszczyszyn points out that not all betting outlets are bad. A friend of his, Rob Pizzola, is a co-owner of betstamps, a sports betting tracker and odds comparison tool that emphasizes transparency. Pizzola questions the target audience of the betting ads,”You have the existing audience of Hockey Night in Canada, who don’t bet on sports, and they don’t care about betting, they just want to watch the hockey game. Now suddenly, you have a segment at intermission devoted to telling you what the live odds are. Those people will say, ‘get this off my screen, what the hell is this?’ And I don’t know who the target audience is for that type of segment.”
Pizzola believes there should be a rigorous interview process or examination to be considered a sports betting expert to help protect the viewers at home. “It’s just really frustrating to see what things have devolved into an end. This hits me personally. One of my best friends is a huge problem gamer and has to self-ban himself at local casinos and loses tons of money betting online. And he is unable to see through the stuff that’s being fed to him on TV, on social media and so on. it’s dangerous.” He also echoes Luszczyszyn’s call for accountability and transparency.
Pizzola adds “A segment like ‘here are the live betting odds,’ if you’re already a bettor, you don’t need to be fed that information, that’s not going to entice you to go make a bet. You would probably be looking at that yourself already. That’s not information that needs to be delivered to you. This oversaturation of gambling ads everywhere, it’s disgusting. I’ve suffered from problem gambling I owed a lot of money, it sucks, and a lot of people are gonna go down that path because they don’t know better. Sports Betting is a math problem. Nobody realizes that. This was me for 15 years, I’d think ‘I watch a ton of sports. How could I possibly not win money betting on them?’ It’s not like that at all. Sports Betting is a market just like the stock market, they’re competing with the sportsbook.”
Today Luszczyszyn continues to bet on games, but he feels that he is much better equipped to deal with the down days.“There have been some days where I think ‘this is awful. I don’t know if I want to keep doing this’ and I’ve been close to taking a break and stopping. For the most part, it’s just been indifference. I am betting a lot less than I was last year as well. I think the biggest thing is that it’s not public and I can still look at the trends and numbers and think that’s probably just bad luck or whatever variants and be fine with that. But last year, even if that was happening, I just felt like this immense shame with how public everything was.”
Luszczyszyn mentions the two sides of betting. Having money on the line can add excitement but the other side, which is rarely talked about, is when the bets don’t land, and the darker thoughts creep in.
When Luszczyszyn went public with his mental battles, he was in San Francisco visiting Yosemite National Park as an escape. “ I just said, Fuck it. I need to get out of the house and do something.” He had woken up at 5 a.m to try and be in the park for sunrise. Winter was just ending, bits of snow still on the ground. The Californian air was cold but refreshing. Mountains on all sides – inspiring and breathtaking. Unlike anything you could see in Ontario – it was surreal for him.
It was an escape from the city, it was an escape from the stress. It was a human moment for a person who had been through so much and came through on top.