Problem gambling experts are not surprised by recent betting scandals that have surfaced within the athletic departments of several major U.S. colleges and say that more education of athletes, coaches, staff and administrators is needed.
Three high-profile incidents have surfaced within the last month, the first at the University of Alabama involving the firing of its head baseball coach over a suspicious wager placed in Cincinnati on a game involving the Crimson Tide, followed by an ongoing betting investigation involving more than 40 student-athletes at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.
On May 31, Scott Googins also resigned as the head baseball coach at the University of Cincinnati after the dismissal of two assistant coaches for alleged knowledge of improper betting.
“I do believe this is one of the many costs we now face for legalizing sports betting,” said Brianne Doura-Schawohl, founder of Doura-Schawohl Consulting in Washington, D.C.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), lifting the federal ban on sports betting outside Nevada, legal sports wagering has spread to 35 states and the District of Columbia, while it has been legalized but regulations have not yet been adopted in Kentucky and Maine.
“Obviously, gambling among athletes, match-fixing and the like were all happening to some extent before legalization,” Doura-Schawohl said.
“That being said, prior to PASPA sports betting wasn't nearly as glorified or accessible. It's been well documented that since PASPA there has been an increase in both the harassment of athletes and gambling participation by athletes and other connected individuals.”
Just as prohibition would never eliminate gambling addiction, Doura-Schawohl said, “prohibition of sports betting would not eliminate these incidents. However, as an industry we must be talking about how we react appropriately to better prevent these events from occurring.”
According to a recent National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) study, 58 percent of young people aged 18 to 22 had placed at least one bet within the last year. Of those polled who live on a college campus, the participation rate was 67 percent.
Both Mark Potter of EPIC Risk Management and Martin Lycka with the Entain Foundation U.S. attributed legalization and regulation of sports betting as the main reason issues such as those involved in Alabama and Ohio have become public.
“Legalization of sports betting has allowed for earlier detection of this untoward behavior and helped put the leagues and others in a position to resolve these issues. As always though, there’s still more education work to be done,” said Lycka, who also serves as senior vice president of American regulatory affairs and responsible gambling at BetMGM co-owner Entain.
Potter, who leads the NCAA gambling harm education program for EPIC, agreed, saying the recent occurrences could be one of the key changes we see in the era of legalized sports wagering because detection systems are better, there is far more scrutiny on sports wagering, and people are falling foul of the rules.
“Anyone signing up for an account now must be verified, providing ID and supporting documents, which makes the monitoring process much easier to identify those who are in breach of regulations and engaging in wagering activities,” Potter said.
Potter also said the recent news stories demonstrate a need to keep improving understanding, awareness, and knowledge of the potential risks to student-athletes and those close to them when they engage in betting activities.
NCAA rules prohibit participation in sports wagering activities and providing any information related to individuals involved in or associated with any type of sports wagering activities concerning intercollegiate, amateur or professional athletics competitions.
“Sports wagering has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the well-being of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community,” according to the NCAA's policy.
Potter said with the support from Entain Foundation U.S., EPIC is working in collaboration with the NCAA to deliver face-to-face gambling harm awareness education sessions to thousands of student-athletes, coaches, and support staff at colleges and universities.
“The program has enabled us to speak directly with hundreds of colleges so far and we continue to offer new information and advice on how to mitigate both gambling-related harm and sporting integrity risks,” he said.
The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) also provides recommendations through its Safer Sports Betting Initiative (SSBI) for colleges, the NCAA and bookmakers, as well as state governments and gambling operators.
“While there has been some promising programs and initiatives, we are still far from having a comprehensive public health approach to preventing and treating gambling addiction, particularity among high risk groups like young, male college students,” said Keith Whyte, NCPG’s executive director.
The NCPG’s goal with its initiative is to offer innovative responsible gambling partnerships and comprehensive problem gambling programs to increase protective aspects and reduce risk factors for gambling addiction.
“We continue to invite all stakeholders to work with us to mitigate gambling-related harm,” he said.
Doura-Schawohl stressed that, moving forward, stakeholders should be investing in educating athletes, coaches, staff, and even parents about what is and is not acceptable.
“Additionally, we must increase mental health resources and services for those who are struggling from these amplified internal and external pressures related to gambling,” she said. “These pressures could be correlated to the poor judgement calls that we are seeing that are ultimately jeopardizing careers and lives.”