Chicago Sun-Times

March Madness is big business for gambling, and growth of sports betting poses a threat to college athletes

- BY JASON W. OSBORNE Jason W. Osborne is professor of Statistics, Institute for Responsibl­e Gaming, Lottery, and Sport at Miami University.

When March Madness begins on March 14, 2023, it’s a sure bet that millions of Americans will be making wagers on the annual college basketball tournament.

The American Gaming Associatio­n estimates that in 2022, 45 million people — or more than 17% of American adults — planned to wager $3.1 billion on the NCAA tournament. That makes it one of the nation’s most popular sports betting events, alongside contests such as the Kentucky Derby and the Super Bowl. By at least one estimate, March Madness is the most popular betting target of all.

While people have been betting on March Madness for years, one difference now is that betting on college sports is legal in many states. This is largely due to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for each state to decide whether to permit gambling on sporting events. Prior to the ruling, legal sports betting was only allowed in Nevada.

Sports betting has since grown dramatical­ly. Currently, 36 states allow legalized sports betting. Georgia, Maine and Kentucky are proposing legislatio­n to make sports betting legal.

About two weeks after sports betting became legal in Ohio on Jan. 1, 2023, someone, disappoint­ed by an unexpected loss of the University of Dayton men’s basketball team to Virginia Commonweal­th University, made threats and left disparagin­g messages against Dayton athletes and the coaching staff.

The Ohio case is by no means isolated. In 2019, a Babson College student who was a “prolific sports gambler” was sentenced to 18 months in prison for sending death threats to at least 45 profession­al and collegiate athletes in 2017.

Faculty members of Miami University’s Institute for Responsibl­e Gaming, Lottery, and Sports are concerned that the increasing prevalence of sports betting could potentiall­y lead to more such incidents, putting more athletes in danger of threats from disgruntle­d gamblers who blame them for their gambling losses.

The anticipate­d growth in sports gambling is quite sizable. Analysts estimate the market in the U.S. may reach over $167 billion by 2029.

Making inroads into colleges

Concerns over college athletes being targeted by upset gamblers are not new. Players and sports organizati­ons have expressed worry that expanded gambling could lead to harassment and compromise their safety. Such concerns led the nation’s major sports organizati­ons — MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL and NCAA — to sue New Jersey in 2012 over its plan to initiate legal sports betting, arguing that sports betting would make the public think that games were being thrown. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that it was up to states to decide whether to permit legal gambling.

Sports betting has also made inroads into college campuses. Some universiti­es, such as Louisiana State University and Michigan State University, have signed multimilli­on-dollar deals with casinos or gaming companies to promote gambling on campus.

Athletic conference­s are also cashing in on the data related to these games and events. For instance, the Mid-Atlantic Conference signed a lucrative five-year deal in 2022 to provide real-time statistica­l event data to gambling companies, which then leverage the data to create real-time wager opportunit­ies during sporting events.

As sports betting comes to colleges and universiti­es, schools will inevitably have to deal with some of the negative aspects of gambling. This potentiall­y includes more than just gambling addiction. It could also involve the potential for student-athletes and coaches to become targets of threats, intimidati­on or bribes to influence the outcome of events.

The risk for addiction on campus is real. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, over 2 million adults in the U.S. have a “serious” gambling problem, and another 4 million to 6 million may have mild to moderate problems. One report estimates that 6% of college students have a serious gambling problem.

What can be done

Colleges and universiti­es don’t have to sit idly by as gambling grows.

Two faculty fellows at Miami University’s Institute for Responsibl­e Gaming, Lottery, and Sport recommend that regulators and policymake­rs work with schools to reduce the potential harm. They recommend that each state regulatory authority:

◆ Develop plans to coordinate among government­al agencies so that individual­s found guilty of violations are sanctioned in other jurisdicti­ons.

◆ Dedicate some of the revenue from gaming to develop educationa­l materials and support services for athletes and those around them.

◆ Create anonymous tip lines to report threats, intimidati­on or influence, and fund an independen­t entity to respond to these reports.

◆ Assess and protect athlete privacy. Schools might decline to publish contact informatio­n for student-athletes and coaches in public directorie­s.

◆ Train athletes and those around them on basic privacy management. For instance, schools might advise athletes to not post on public social media outlets, especially if the post gives away their physical location.

The NCAA or athletic conference­s could lead the way on educating, protecting and supporting student-athletes and others around them who work at the schools for which they play. Doing so will require significan­t investment to be effective.

The views and opinions expressed by contributo­rs are their own and do not necessaril­y reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

 ?? QUINN HARRIS/GETTY IMAGES ?? Boo Buie of the Northweste­rn (hand on floor) reaches past Penn State’s Jalen Pickett for a loose ball in the Big Ten Tournament at United Center on Friday.
QUINN HARRIS/GETTY IMAGES Boo Buie of the Northweste­rn (hand on floor) reaches past Penn State’s Jalen Pickett for a loose ball in the Big Ten Tournament at United Center on Friday.

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