Die-hard fans of college teams in the Tar Heel State are excited to begin placing bets on their favorite teams on March 11.
At that point, they will also be permitted to engage in the controversial practice of props betting on college athletics. The North Carolina Lottery Commission (NCLC) is still ironing out the final rules for sports betting. As yet, the agency has made no moves to follow other states and ban props betting on college games and student-athletes.
With a month to go before the launch of online sports betting in North Carolina, we likely won’t see any movement on regulations around college prop bets.
The perils of props betting on college athletics
While sports betting brings needed tax revenue to state coffers, it also increases harassment of college athletes. Unhinged college sports fans have always been a problem. Adding money wagering into the mix brings another set of issues. Namely, it can affect the mental health of student-athletes who are already under intense pressure to win games.
“There’s a different type of heckler now,” according to East Carolina Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Dr. Michelle Malkin. “They’re not necessarily fans. Instead of feeling a connection to the team because of a love of the game, they feel like they’re on the team because they’re spending money on the team’s—and sometimes just a player’s—success.”
With a rise in sports betting harassment and scandals, nine states have banned college sports prop betting. Other states prohibit it just for in-state teams. In Ohio, college prop bets are under fire from the governor and NCAA president Charlie Baker.
Support for props betting bans on collegiate sports
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine released a statement last week supporting the end of prop bets on collegiate sports. He referred to the online harassment received by players in his argument:
“One year into sports gambling in Ohio, we have seen a marketplace develop where a number of bad actors have engaged in unacceptable behavior by making threats against student-athletes in Ohio and across the country. By amending rules to focus bets on the team and away from individual athletes, I believe we can improve the marketplace in Ohio and better protect student-athletes from unnecessary and potentially harmful threats.”
Baker oversaw the passage of a sports betting bill when he was the governor of Massachusetts. However, he has always been against prop bets on the performance of student-athletes and college programs. He made his position clear during last month’s NCAA Convention in Phoenix. He also sent a letter to the Ohio Casino Control Commission on January 31 reiterating his stance.
“The data is clear that student-athletes are getting harassed by bettors. Sports betting without appropriate controls poses real risks to the well-being of student-athletes and to the integrity of collegiate competition – risks which are heightened by individual prop bets. On behalf of the thousands of student-athletes, administrators and game officials in Ohio, I thank Gov. DeWine for acting quickly to protect student-athletes and game integrity while responsibly regulating the growing sports betting industry in Ohio.”
What should the NCLC do?
North Carolina stands to make a pretty penny from tax revenue come March 11, when online sports betting goes live. However, given the backdrop of a rise in troubling harassment incidents, it makes sense to ban props betting in NC. The Duke-UNC basketball rivalry, the most intense college sports series, and the die-hard fan bases among the state’s elite athletic programs highlight the need to examine the issue. Why risk the safety of college players in a state where some call basketball the state religion?
The NCLC has already made moves to address responsible gambling among college students. Addiction and mental health are among the top priorities. Student-athletes can access free educational resources on sports wagering and handling online harassment. Banning prop bets on their games and individual performances would move in the right direction. This action will help maintain the integrity of college sports in NC and protect the mental health of athletes.
The next NCLC’s next scheduled meeting comes on Feb. 21. We likely won’t see any regulatory shifts in the weeks before the launch of online sports betting. However, since the launch comes right before both the ACC Tournament and March Madness, the focus on college sports will be at its peak.
Commissioners, lawmakers and North Carolina universities would do well to closely monitor how legal sports betting affects the interactions between athletes and fans.
Image Credit: Karl B DeBlaker / AP Images