Are Sports Betting Deals With College Athletics Gambling On Student-Athlete Risk?

Written By Kevin Shelly on March 26, 2021 - Last Updated on May 3, 2021
Problem Gambling Protections Needed for College Athletes

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, financial deals between university sports programs and sports betting companies can increase the incidence of problem gambling by students.

The council said college students, particularly student-athletes, are at greater risk of developing a gambling problem than the general population. The Washington, D.C.-based organization recently issued recommendations aimed at curbing the potential problem.

The council’s leader, Keith Whyte, was unaware of any Pennsylvania schools with sports betting partnerships.

However, PointsBet, a sportsbook with a controversial history of just such partnerships, including a $30 per referral to the University of Colorado, just entered the Pennsylvania market via Penn National Gaming late Thursday after Whyte spoke to PlayPennsylvania.

Even before that news broke, Whyte said there is “an urgent need now to increase problem gambling prevention, education, treatment, research and recovery programs aimed at college students and college student-athletes.”

Josh Ercole, executive director of the affiliated PA Council on Compulsive Gaming, said early exposure to gambling is a particular worry because brains are not fully developed.

Keys to curbing problem gambling in college settings

Key suggestions from the council include:

  • Not compensating schools based on the number of people the colleges refer to sign up for sports betting
  • Provide problem gambling education underwritten by sports betting companies
  • Bookmakers should provide data to colleges on betting activities and patterns of students
  • Set clear policies defining who can wager on sports
  • Not allow advertising of sports betting in areas where most of the population is likely to be under the age of 21, such as dorms and dining areas
  • State governments should study gambling activity among high school and college students
  • A minimum of 1% of revenue dedicated to prevent and treat gambling addiction

Already bookmakers, including PointsBet and William Hill, have affiliation deals with the University of Colorado and the University of Nevada‘s Las Vegas and Reno campuses.

PointsBet now has Pennsylvania market access and already has a big advertising presence on Philadelphia sports broadcasts. Caesars Entertainment, the parent company of Harrah’s Philadelphia, takes control of UK-based William Hill later this year.

University of Colorado compensated for PointsBet referrals

Last fall, PointsBet and the University of Colorado signed a $1.6 million five-year deal. The school gets the funding while promoting the sportsbook on its media channels and at in-person sporting events.

The deal also calls for Colorado to receive $30 for each sports betting referral who signs up.

The university justified the arrangement by saying the deal provides funds cut by COVID-19 restrictions.

Richard McGarvey, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, PGCB, said he could not “speculate at this point” about how regulators would handle a proposed deal between a sportsbook and a college athletic program.

“Nothing has been presented to the board on such an arrangement. If something is presented, the board would conduct its due diligence and make a determination,” said McGarvey.

He added that the PGCB is a longtime member of the National Council on Problem Gambling, and the agency has a long history of addressing problem gambling. He said the agency will review the suggestions.

Regulators should feel a sense of urgency in adopting guidelines

Whyte said his organization’s suggested guidelines “can help limit the number of young adults who could develop signs of gambling addiction as a result of sports betting, which is expanding rapidly across America.”

Whyte added:

“We hope gambling operators, institutions of higher learning and state officials each feel a sense of urgency in adopting these responsible gambling policies and problem gambling treatment measures, whether sports betting is legal or might be in the near future.”

College students and athletes vulnerable to problem gambling

College athletics are of particular concern to the council because:

  • Legalized betting on college sports normalizes betting on sports overall
  • New forms of sports betting – think in-game wagering – increase the availability, accessibility, and acceptability of betting
  • Students have higher rates of problem gambling compared to the general population
  • Technology has changed the way student-athletes gamble to favor online wagers, which increases the risk of problem gambling
  • College student-athletes are at greater risk because they are highly competitive
  • Student-athletes include a high percentage of ethnic minorities who have a disproportionately higher risk for gambling problems
  • Students have higher rates of mental health issues and have higher substance use rates

“Our recommendations highlight the high concentration of risk for young, college students and athletes when combined with expanded access to extensive advertising of betting on sports including college games,” Whyte summed up.

Lead image credit: AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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