While over 75% of states reap the benefits of sports wagering tax revenue and fans enjoy betting on their favorite teams and players, the NCAA grapples with serious gambling-related concerns.
As a result, the organization is pressuring state governments to increase measures to protect college athletes from harassment and provide comprehensive gambling education.
With a sports betting launch coming next year, will the NC Lottery Commission, regulator of the sports betting industry, take heed? If so, how will it make betting-related protections for North Carolina college athletes a centerpiece of its NC responsible gambling policy?
Athletes under the microscope and the effects of props betting
College games, especially football, are among the most highly attended and watched athletic events in the nation. So, it’s no surprise that with the rise in the number of states with legalized sports betting, student-athletes are facing a growing number of troubling harassment incidents from overzealous gamblers.
NCAA president Charlie Baker is no stranger to the issues surrounding sports betting and college athletes. The organization hired the former Massachusetts governor in Dec. 2022, just four months after he signed a sports betting law in the New England state. Last fall, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission enacted some of the strictest guidelines in the country for betting on college teams.
Bettors in the state are prohibited from placing wagers on in-state college teams unless the schools are participating in a tournament of four or more programs. In effect, this means that most bettors will only get a chance to bet on a Massachusetts team that advances to postseason NCAA tournaments such as March Madness.
Presumably, this measure was meant to help stave off harassment from gamblers who might get upset that their home team didn’t win a contest and then take their anger out on athletes in their immediate communities, either from the stands, on social media, or in person.
With some athletes gaining intense fame for NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) deals, such as LSU’s Olivia Dunne and Angel Reese, this concern is even more significant. In fact, Dunn and Reese, only attend online classes now, due to the massive attention they receive, a lot of it unwanted, from rabid fans when they are out and about on campus.
Props betting raises a different concern. It can lead to harassment from unhinged bettors during college games when a specific action or statistical achievement doesn’t occur during a matchup.
College athletes in popular sports already face intense pressure. Experiencing harassment during a game if they don’t reach an achievement–like a certain number of rebounds in a quarter–makes the situation worse. They don’t have the insulation of professional athletes as they interact with fans in the community, during classes and in dorms. Consequently, nearly two dozen states, including Massachusetts and Virginia, have bans on prop bets for college sports.
When sports betting launches in North Carolina sometime next year, residents will be able to bet on in-state teams. The NC Lottery Commission has yet to set regulations around placing prop bets on college sports.
The NCAA’s anti-harassment advocacy
The NCAA is keeping close tabs on sports betting legislation across the country. It claims that while some laws “contain robust protection and integrity provisions, many do not.”
The organization wants states to enact compulsory reporting and penalties for harassment. The NCAA’s suggestions include:
– Mandatory reporting hotlines for gaming commissions or their designees.
– Giving power to gambling authorities to place those suspected of harassment, coercion, or integrity concerns on temporary restrictions while law enforcement is investigating.
– Requiring gaming commissions or operators to develop and implement a system to monitor harassment or coercive behavior and mandate that state gambling authorities refer such behavior to law enforcement or other established gambling enforcement units.
– Mandatory bettor and gambling personnel education.
North Carolina is solidifying a team to oversee the creation of regulations for expanded sports betting. Sterl Carpenter, the deputy executive director for sports betting and a former Massachusetts Gaming Commission employee, leads the team. With the NCAA’s new advocacy and Carpenter’s experience, collegiate athletics stakeholders will be interested to see if he advocates for some of the stringent Massachusetts college betting rules for North Carolina.
At any rate, following the NCAA’s anti-harassment suggestions should be a priority for the North Carolina Lottery Commission if it wants to combat harassment of student-athletes head-on instead of waiting for the inevitable incidents to take place before taking decisive action.
Securing the integrity of the game
The other major issue that concerns the NCAA when it comes to sports betting is responsible gaming and the “integrity of the game.”
This summer, the NCAA reported 175 sports betting policy violations since 2018 and had 17 active investigations underway. Violations included athletes, coaches and administrators placing bets on games and providing inside information. Several of those cases made national headlines at major universities and involved dozens of students.
Even with existing college and NCAA rules that ban student-athletes from gambling, the illegal activity persists.
As a result, the NCAA developed guidelines it wants states to follow. The NCAA aims to protect college games from corruption and to deter athletes from engaging in irresponsible gambling behavior. Those guidelines entail:
– The creation of a prohibited betters list of those who cannot bet on college sports.
– The allowance for college sports representatives to have a say in the approval of betting operators and voice concerns about betting markets, especially prop bets.
– Making the legal betting age 21 and above, which will be the case in North Carolina.
– Developing strict marketing and advertising standards.
– Providing additional funding for responsible gaming efforts targeted at college campuses and for investigating illegal sports betting markets on college campuses.
These NCAA recommendations can help states be proactive in combatting harassment and putting the mental health and safety of student-athletes at the forefront.
Problem gambling and student-athletes in North Carolina
It remains to be seen how much the NCLC takes heed of the NCAA’s recommendations as it enters the rulemaking phase of sports betting expansion.
Currently, four universities in the state will receive responsible gaming training. The commission also announced other measures, including hiring treatment and recovery coordinators for college campuses. It also advocated launching media campaigns at college stadiums.
The state also has a gambling assistance program, More Than A Game, to help those struggling with gambling addiction. However, North Carolina needs more responsible gaming initiatives according to Dr. Michelle Malkin, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences at East Carolina University. Malkin’s current research focuses on gambling behavior and risk at 12 of the 16 UNC campuses.
Even before Gov. Cooper signed the new sports betting law, Malkin laid out a framework for responsible gambling in North Carolina for student-athletes and state residents in general.
“If we legalize, first, we should put funds into education of the population. Then we need to set aside resources for people suffering from problem gambling, and, third, we need to devote money towards research: baseline studies of people engaging in problem gambling and an awareness of what people need for recovery.”