‘Generation Gamble’ Documentary On CNBC Was No Steak, All Scare

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CNBC aired a one-hour documentary Tuesday night titled Generation Gamble, and it was … not that good. 

To be fair, trying to capture the entirety of the online gambling and investing world and how it pertains to Gen Z in the span of about 45 minutes is a bit of a fool’s errand, but this special was scattershot in its coverage, its message, and ultimately, in its portrayal of the gambling world.

It was an inch deep and only slightly wider.

I took notes …

The open

Hosted by Melissa Lee, the special starts by noting the pandemic smushed together sports betting, gaming, and investing. Not exactly breaking news, and not exactly caused by the pandemic, but OK, fine, let’s move on.

By about five minutes in, I’m already yelling at my television. We had just spent a few minutes with a 22-year-old sports bettor — one who claimed there is more skill than luck in sports betting at higher levels (which is true, though it was framed as a dubious assertion) — and then a chart is whipped out.

The chart in question shows revenue figures in the online sports betting and iGaming world from 2020: $1.5 billion each, according to the American Gaming Association. From there, Lee notes the revenue numbers are already higher in the first half of 2021. And while this is true, no context was given, namely more and more states went live as 2020 and 2021 rolled on. So already, we’re treading in dangerous waters. The chart and the narration would have you believe we’re gambling more — which may or may not be true. 

Then — as this is CNBC and not ESPN — we’re introduced to RobinHood and online stock trading and the GameStop frenzy and AMC and all that. 

The insta-message? Anytime anyone puts money here in an effort to make more money there, it’s gambling and it’s troublesome.

Here comes DraftKings

Next up is a look at DraftKings (you may have heard of them). An interview with Matt Kalish, one of the founders, presents a few interesting takeaways.

One, DraftKings has 16 million registered users, and two, Kalish notes most players are casual, with 25-cent entries being the most popular price point in daily fantasy.

Another interesting point: Kalish said there was “no line of sight” to sports betting when the company launched in 2012. Today, of course, DraftKings is in the midst of attempting to become the single biggest gambling company in the world.

Lee then attempts to grill Kalish on problem gaming, but he easily deflects it by noting there is a team dedicated to identifying problem gambling issues with its customers, and that the team is operated completely separate from DraftKings’ day-to-day operations, a “church and state” situation.

And just when it appears this documentary is landing on solid ground, we’re off to Miami to talk to an 18-year-old crypto millionaire.

South Beach, bringing the heat

We’re introduced to Matt Lorion, that young millionaire who drives a $120,000 Corvette, lives in Miami, and wears an ace of spades ring. 


He’s described as an entrepreneur, a trader, and a social media influencer. He posts videos about investing in crypto, and he’s asked by Lee if he’s surprised people in his age group go to TikTok for trading advice.

His response is basically, “Um, no?”

This kid — and yes, I’ve definitely reached the stage of my life where I look at 18-year-old adults as “kids” — is clearly a hustler. No judgment here, as for all I know he might believe everything he says when he goes online and talks about his investments — but “hustling” and “gambling” are two very different things. Getting people to like and click your InstaSnapYouTubes about crypto is not my bag, but to lump it in with sports betting is silly. Sure, of course, many sports bettors also dabble in the crypto world, and that would make for some interesting television, talking to people who see the similarities and differences and all that.

But an 18-year-old with an ace of spades ring who posts videos about his #LushLife? Come on. Low hanging fruit. Of course it’s going to make it all look like a big ol’ scam.

Cue sad trombones

Next we’re introduced to David, 28, who will be our cautionary tale for the evening.

He grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs, middle class, mom and dad, a “happy” life, a “normal” life.

Then David deposited $120 in an offshore gambling site when he was in 10th grade. By the time he was done with college, he was addicted to cocaine. He was in the hole for about $50,000. His parents found his credit card statements. 

“I didn’t want to live,” David says.

David eventually found himself at Beit T’Shuvah in Los Angeles, a residential addiction center, where he put his life back together and is now — wait for it — a social worker.

Interspersed throughout David’s story are interviews with gambling addiction specialists and the like, and we find out over four million Americans have a compulsive gambling disorder and the sky is falling due to, as one UCLA professor put it, having “Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Macau in our pockets.”

Listen: Obviously there are problem gamblers. We know this. The industry as a whole knows this. But distilling the issue into an eight-minute segment about one person who dipped his toes in the offshore world as a teenager does not tell “the” story. Of course there are going to be individuals who can’t handle gambling, but holding one up as a cautionary tale does nothing to educate the average American. It just serves to scare the average American. The depicted moral of David’s story isn’t “gamble with care.” It’s “don’t gamble.” That’s simply not helpful.

From here, there is talk of the metaverse and how that might be the next frontier of online gambling, and a little more talk about crypto and investing, and then Lee ties it all up in nice bow with this: “As this generation changes how we think about gambling, gaming, and investing, the boundaries between them are being blurred, and taking risks have become as easy as a tap on the app.”

In the end, the doc certainly had a Reefer Madness feel to it, with sports betting, stock market investing, and crypto all lumped together into a “these kids today are going to Thelma and Louise themselves right off a cliff!” hour of hand-wringing.

It was more scare-mongering than educational, and I’m sure that any Gen Z’er watching this — especially ones who dabble in the world of sports betting, stock market investing, or crypto — had the same exact reaction, namely: “OK Boomer.”

Image courtesy of CNBC

Author: Wanda Peters