NCAA Survey Examines Young Bettors In America

Hoping to “establish a new baseline of sports betting activity,” the NCAA recently surveyed young Americans, finding that sports betting has become “pervasive” to the extent that “67% of students living on campus are bettors.”

This should pique the interest of North Carolinians, for whom college sports is, arguably, the biggest game in town.

Now that online sports betting in North Carolina has been legalized, including betting on collegiate sports, findings such as these can help regulators responsibly prepare for launch.

Most bettors are infrequent; women, Black respondents are outliers

From April 18 to April 25, Opinion Diagnostics surveyed 3,527 people age 18-22 who live in the US. Of those respondents, 1,702 were enrolled in an American college or university.

Fifty percent of respondents identified as male, 48% as female and 2% identified as “some other way.” A range of racial and ethnic demographics was represented as identified in the survey’s results.

The survey found that, at the highest level, 58% of respondents “engaged in at least one sports betting activity.”

In terms of frequency, the survey found that most bettors across all demographics wager infrequently. Twenty-two percent bet “once a year,” while 36% wager “a few times per year.” Only 15% of respondents bet either weekly or daily.

The average dollar value of any given bet ranged from $1-$50 for 79% of bettors, and 71% reported a “highest daily loss” of under $100.

In terms of money wagered and money lost, Black respondents represented a significant outlier. Ten percent of Black respondents placed high-dollar bets (+$100), which doubled the percentage of high-dollar bettors among the rest of the survey respondents. In a similar manner, 10% of Black respondents noted losing more than $500 a day, compared with 6% of the rest of respondents.

Watching, betting go hand in hand

All demographic groups reported that they are “much more likely” to watch a sporting event if they placed money on it. Further, those who bet daily are 46% more likely to watch a sporting event every day, whereas only 9% of those who bet less frequently watch live sports daily.

Of those who bet using online apps, either legal or illegal, in-game or “live” bets are the most common bet types, representing 60% of all online bets. In this market, women “place in-game bets at a relatively higher rate than men,” with 64% of women reporting placing a live bet.

The shape of risky betting among young bettors

The survey outlined three key “risky behaviors” among young bettors:

  • Betting either a few times a week or daily;
  • Betting $50 or more in a typical wager; and
  • Losing more than $500 or more betting on sports in a single day.

Looking at those behaviors allowed the NCAA to give some shape to the young risky bettor in America. First of all, respondents indicated that 16% of all 18- to 22-year-olds engaged in one of the above risky behaviors.

Further, a risky bettor is probably making bets through several avenues and in several markets. They are more likely to bet through online apps and play daily fantasy sports. They tend to “use a broader variety of bet types and bet on a larger number of sports, leagues, and events than their peers.”

Embedded in 70% of these bettors is the idea they can “chase” bad bets and recuperate money lost by betting more. Eighty percent of risky bettors also identified as being more likely to gamble after seeing sports betting ads.

The over-represented populations in this group were “bettors from the northeast and south and African Americans.”

Findings differ slightly from concurrent gambling surveys in North Carolina

Dr. Michelle Malkin, an assistant professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, who NCSharp interviewed about her stance on collegiate responsible gambling, is conducting her own research into gambling trends among North Carolina college students.

While the results are not public yet, she did comment on the veracity of the NCAA’s survey, stating:

“The findings [are a bit higher] from what I’ve been seeing, and the report does not provide a lot of details around demographics (other than gender), the breakdown of individuals who are/are not college students, nor the breakdown of respondents from different states based on sports gambling legality.”

Malkin’s research has also identified a disparity between male and female bettors.

“When looking based on gender, Malkin said, “male college students do gamble at much higher rates generally, including on sports.”

Though finding the same gender disparity, the NCAA noted that “18-22-year-old women now represent an important betting population, with a 51% majority of women having taken part in betting activities and 25% of women engaging in betting activities at least monthly.”

Malkin’s research focusing on gambling awareness, behavior and risk at 12 North Carolina universities is ongoing, and the results are designed to educate North Carolina regulators involved in the launch of online sports betting.

As Malkin’s previous NCSharp interview indicated, aggregating data that captures the full scope of collegiate gambling is difficult owing to the many informal forms of gambling that occur among students.

It is this casual and informal landscape of small bets among friends over a pick-up game and Super Bowl squares contests that can fall through the cracks of surveys such as the NCAA’s. Moreover, it will be important for regulators and universities to clearly define to young people what does and does not count as gambling, so they can be aware of and take ownership of how they spend their time and money.

About the Author

Tyler Andrews

Tyler is the Managing Editor for, covering sports, sports law, and gambling for the Tar Heel State. He has also covered similar topics for PlayTexas, PlayGeorgia, PlayCA, PlayFlorida, PlayOhio, and PlayMA. Tyler’s current focus is North Carolina’s pathway to gaming legalization.