In most states that have legalized it, those who engage in sports betting must be at least 21 years old.
That is the case in Ohio, which launched legal sports betting statewide on Jan. 1.
Though Ohio has laws in place to protect underage people from exposure to sportsbooks (such as banning marketing and advertising that targets those under 21), it’s difficult to shield them entirely from sports betting.
Inevitably, some people under 21 are able to figure out ways to participate in sports betting.
That sets up the potential for college-age individuals to develop gambling problems. And that, in turn, sets up unique challenges for responsible gambling initiatives and those tasked with helping to prevent and treat underage sports bettors who develop gambling problems.
Team to discuss college-age gambling at Ohio Problem Gambling Conference
“College-age individuals have unique risks and consequences and therefore require unique prevention strategies and interventions,” says Matt McMurray, an assistant professor of psychology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
That is the core message McMurray and fellow Miami University faculty members Sharon Custer and Adam Beissel discuss in their presentation titled “Sports Betting and the College Student,” part of Problem Gambling Network of Ohio and Ohio for Responsible Gambling’s 2023 problem gambling convention.
Attended by social workers, therapists, counselors and other professional and volunteer gambling disorder prevention and treatment specialists, the 20th annual Ohio Problem Gambling Conference takes place Feb. 23 and 24 at the Nationwide Hotel in Lewis Center, Ohio. (A virtual “pre-conference” was held over Zoom Feb. 7 and 9.)
The conference features panels, workshops and lecture-style presentations on an array of gambling prevention and treatment topics. Presentations this year include “2 Sides to Every Story: Exploring the Impact Gambling Disorder Has on Family” and “Understanding Gambling-Motivated Crime & Blueprint for a Gambling Court.”
College students at unique risk for developing gambling problems
Custer, Beissel and McMurray bring their different areas of expertise to Miami University’s Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lotteries and Sport, which was founded in 2021.
“We are an interdisciplinary, non-partisan team interested in analyzing different facets of gambling and the impacts of gambling behaviors and trends on individuals and society,” Custer says of the institute. “Each of us uses our unique lenses and research expertise to inform policymakers, prevention and treatment providers, consumers and the industry. Our goal is to find ways to support positive play experiences that also protect consumers.”
College students are at unique risk for developing gambling problems for a variety of reasons, mostly based on their age and limited life experience. Custer and McMurray say some of those reasons include:
- College students are often experiencing being away from their home and parents for the first time, in a less-structured environment with less-defined support systems. “These environmental factors are known to increase risk in adults,” Custer says.
- College students usually have limited experience with money and budgeting. “So, there can be a misconception about available disposable income,” Custer says.
- With opportunities to drink, “the likelihood of risk-taking behaviors only increases,” Custer says.
- “Compounding these factors is the unique biology of the college-age brain, which isn’t fully developed until the mid-twenties,” Custer says. The part of the brain responsible for “decision-making, impulse control and planning” is one of the last to develop, she says.
Emphasizing treatment and prevention with better communication
Custer, McMurray and Beissel’s presentation delves into potential prevention, treatment and early intervention strategies that can be used when dealing with college-age people and sports betting.
Sports betting availability at its current scale is so new that prevention and treatment strategies are still being researched and developed.
Custer says it begins with asking the right questions.
“Schools, doctors’ offices, mental health and substance use disorder programs all utilize various screening tools, but they rarely ask specific questions about gambling,” she says. “And those that do are often using out-dated terminology that doesn’t apply to younger generations or behaviors.”
From a prevention standpoint, Custer says it’s important to not just wait until a child has reached college age. She says she hopes their presentation encourages others to develop and enhance resources that promote discussion about gambling risks with younger people.
“Assuming high school students don’t gamble would be as naive as thinking they are also not partaking in alcohol, tobacco or other drugs,” Custer says. “Prevention science repeatedly shows that the more information we provide to young people and the more questions we answer for them, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors.”
Risks to college athletes examined
Another component of the “Sports Betting and the College Student” presentation regards the consequences sports betting can have on college athletes and their friends and families.
McMurray says that recent NIL legislation — which allows college athletes to earn money from the use of their name, image and likeness — creates a new way for “nefarious parties to influence (an athlete’s) performance.”
“Additionally, by placing bets on their team or university, (the athletes) are in a direct conflict of interest,” McMurray says. “The performance of athletes may be affected by their betting or the betting of their friends and families.”
McMurray also notes that student athletes could be at risk of “harm and harassment” from upset bettors, which appears to have already happened in Ohio. The Ohio Casino Control Commission expressed concern over apparent instances of harassment with athletes at the University of Dayton early this year, suggesting that those who engage in such harassment could be banned from all gambling in the state.
The consequences of student athletes themselves engaging in misconduct relating to sports betting are far-reaching, McMurray says. The students could lose scholarships, financial aid or future professional sports opportunities. And such misconduct could also jeopardize a college’s reputation, recruitment, donations and even accreditation.
“As participation in college sports betting increases, universities, athletes and their friends and families will need better education and protection to avoid these negative consequences,” McMurray says.
Ohio regulation “important tool” to limit underage gambling
Ohio built into its sports betting legalization a variety of safeguards to protect under-legal-betting-age residents.
Online sportsbooks employ age verification services to ensure users are 21 or older. Those who try to place bets at sports betting kiosks or retail sportsbooks are required to show proof of age, as well.
Ohio law prohibits sportsbooks from marketing or advertising to people under 21. The law has already resulted in fines being levied in Ohio against two major sportsbooks for violations.
In December of last year, Draftkings Sportsbook Ohio was fined $350,000 by the OCCC for allegedly mailing advertisements to individuals who were under 21.
PENN Entertainment, owner of Barstool Sportsbook Ohio, was fined $250,000 for promoting the sportsbook during a Barstool event near the University of Toledo in November of last year.
McMurray says it’s too soon to tell if such regulations have a meaningful effect on gambling behaviors on college campuses. Still, he sees the regulation as a positive early step.
“Regulation of advertising is an important tool that lawmakers have to prevent harm to consumers,” McMurray says. “In the case of other industries, such as tobacco, regulation of advertising practices has had a measurable and definitive impact on prevention efforts.
“While its impact on sports betting has yet to be measured, it is an important first step to protecting consumers.”
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