The proliferation of legal online gaming and sports wagering—especially on college athletics—has raised concerns about potential impacts on current and potential bettors. Of particular concern to the higher-education community is the impact of these gaming products on students and especially student-athletes.
As of this writing, 38 U.S. states and territories have legalized (but not necessarily launched) wagering on collegiate sports in some form, with as many as 27 legalizing online wagering on these events. Regulation of these wagers varies by state, but prohibitions on wagering on in-state teams and sports events are common. Some jurisdictions also limit the types of wagers permitted, including banning prop bets on individual players or teams. With the popularity of college tournaments like March Madness, some states have made carve-outs in their laws to allow wagering on home teams involved in these contests.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has been closely monitoring the impact of college sports wagering on students. According to an NCAA report released in May of this year, sports wagering has become “pervasive” among 18–22-year-olds, with 58 percent having engaged in at least one sports betting activity.
The survey of 3,527 18–to-22-year-olds also found that sports wagering was more widespread on college campuses. Among respondents living on campus, 67 percent were categorized as bettors. These students tended to bet at a higher frequency, but notably placed smaller bets and suffered smaller losses than their peers who lived off campus.
Problem gambling behaviors were identified in the sample with 16 percent of all respondents having engaged in at least one risky behavior and 6 percent reporting that they had previously lost more than $500 on sports betting in a single day. Of note, while student-athletes were captured in the pool of respondents, they were not represented well enough for analysts to examine their behaviors separately. The NCAA has indicated that a student-athlete-only survey is forthcoming.
The identified prevalence of sports wagering among 18-to-22-year-olds and potential for problem gambling has put college administrators and coaches on alert. An August article by the Associated Press noted that some institutions, following high-profile scandals at Alabama, Iowa and Iowa State, had turned to third-party monitors, like U.S. Integrity, to make sure their student athletes are abiding by the rules. U.S. Integrity partner, RealResponse, takes things a step further by providing student-athletes and administrators with a digital platform that allows for anonymous reporting of suspected gambling activity.
Monitoring and reporting are only one aspect of the higher education system’s approach to responsible gaming. Colleges and universities across the country are also beginning to make responsible gambling part of their outreach to students. One such program launched this spring at Towson University near Baltimore, Maryland. The program, funded by a grant from the National Council on Problem Gambling, asks students to “PAWS”: “Plan ahead, Always know your limits, Wait to play again/wager again and Stop while you’re ahead” before they play. Developers of the program hope it will become a model for what other colleges and universities can implement for their students.
Organizations committed to fostering responsible gaming practice have rapidly developed and made resources available to assist educators in implementing responsible gaming education programs. An example of this is the “College Policies Guide” prepared by the International Center for Responsible Gaming.
A further aspect of higher education’s response to the evolving gambling environment is intervention. Almost all colleges and universities today have some form of mental health counseling available to students but resources specifically addressing responsible gambling vary. Some colleges and universities list “problem gambling” specifically on their counseling center’s websites and have trained counselors in house who can assist students with gambling problems.
For example, Villanova University has a Problem Gambling Tab on their health services page that offers students a self-assessment tool to help identify signs of problem gambling behavior. Students are directed to contact “qualified mental health professionals” in the university’s counseling center if they feel they have a problem with gambling.
Other colleges and universities, such as Stockton University, partner with state agencies like the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ) to provide resources and assistance to students. Counselors in Stockton’s wellness center, who work with addiction, will refer students to the CCGNJ if they need additional support in dealing with problem gambling specifically.
The CCGNJ has also attended Wellness Days at Stockton University and provided resources to students. The difference in approach between institutions is likely proportional to the prominence of their athletic teams and the student population’s resulting exposure to sports wagering.
Through monitoring, reporting, education and intervention, colleges and universities are doing what they can to prepare their students and student-athletes for a world that includes gambling, and, whenever possible, protect them from the worst of its potential impacts.