Athletes’ confidence, competitiveness explain willingness and risk to bet on own games, experts say

August 19, 2023 1:07 PM
Photo: Image by Leonardo Marchini from Pixabay
  • Eric Olson, Associated Press
August 19, 2023 1:07 PM

Allegations of Iowa and Iowa State athletes illegally wagering on sports is one thing. Accusations that some of them bet on games in which they played, or could have, is quite another.

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While fans of both schools have asked why athletes would risk losing eligibility and possibly going to jail over relatively small amounts of money, National Council on Problem Gambling executive director Keith Whyte said he isn’t surprised by allegations of athletes betting on their own games and risking a permanent ban.

“Much of the psychology of gambling, and sports betting in particular, revolves around knowledge of the game and belief in your own skill,” Whyte said, “so the closer you are to the action, the more likely it is you may think that bet is a sure thing.

“So if you’re an athlete who has been studying the film, it’s not necessarily about controlling the outcome; it’s a belief you know the outcome of a game. But there’s a very fine line between knowing how a partiuclar game is going to go because of film and experience and crossing into manipulating the game.”

Of the 14 current and former Iowa and Iowa State athletes who have been charged so far with tampering with records in order to disguise their identities to state authorities and the NCAA, six allegedly bet on football games in which they played and three allegedly bet on football games in which they could have played.

At least one athlete is accused of betting against his own team: Iowa State defensive lineman Isaiah Lee made a money-line bet against the Cyclones in a 2021 game against Texas, according to a criminal complaint. Lee played 42 snaps in the game and made one tackle in ISU’s 30-7 win. Lee is no longer in the program, the school confirmed this week.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission said Aug. 3 that no evidence had been discovered suggesting any game outcomes were compromised.

That was before Lee’s alleged losing bet against the Cyclones was disclosed. IRG administrator Brian Ohorilko on Wednesday referred The Associated Press to the original statement and declined further comment.

College athletes typically attend at least one seminar each year at their school to educate them on the perils of gambling, including NCAA rules and possible penalties. But the proliferation of legal sports wagering across the country and mobile apps that make it easy to place bets has made it a popular activity for college-aged people.

The most recent NCAA survey on athlete gambling, in 2016, found that 24% of male athletes acknowledged violating NCAA bylaws by wagering on sports. The NCAA plans another survey this fall.

Cindy Kerber, an associate professor at Illinois State who researches gambling and other addictions, said the characteristics that make athletes successful tend to make them prone to wagering on sports, particularly male athletes.

The most important is competitiveness, she said.

“They’re expected to compete against each other — with their teammates for a position, against their opponents for a victory — and gambling might be another opportunity to gain status,” Kerber said. “It’s an opportunity to demonstrate a greater skill, knowledge or courage. That overlapping motivation of competition, I feel, drives them to take that risk.”

Kerber said with the expansion of legal sports wagering since 2018, many athletes likely started making bets before they entered college. She said she agrees with the NCAA’s less-punitive reinstatement process for athletes who get caught.

The guidelines adopted in June calls for a permanent ban if any player is found to have bet on their games, influenced the outcome of those games, bet on other sports at their school or knowingly provided information to someone engaged in sports betting.

If a player places a bet on another school competing in the same sport the athlete competes in, he or she could be suspended for half of a season and would be required to complete an educational program on sports wagering rules before becoming eligible for reinstatement.

Previously, athletes lost an entire season for sports gambling. The new penalties will apply to any gambling activities that have taken place since May 2. The alleged wagers placed by the Iowa and Iowa State athletes were placed before that date.

Under the new policy, reinstatement for betting on non-college sports will be based on the total amount of money involved.

While the completion of the educational program is required for each value, it is the only stipulation if the amount is $200 or less. If the number falls between $201 and $500, a player would miss 10% of their games, 20% of a season if the amount is between $501 and $800, and 30% for amounts over $800.

“I think it’s a very sensitive topic but one that needs to be addressed in a more open way,” Kerber said, “so we can be caring toward the athletes who work so hard on both academics and athletics, knowing that they’re vulnerable.”