As more jurisdictions legalize sports betting, there is more scrutiny. And increased scrutiny has cost some athletes dearly.
According to The Athletic, seven players and a staff member from the 2022 football teams at Iowa and Iowa State were “charged with aggravated misdemeanors in connection to a gambling probe.” All but two charged are accused of betting on their own teams. Other athletes from the Iowa universities, including baseball and basketball players and wrestlers, have also been charged.
Then there are the players suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s policies on gambling. The NFL has suspended 10 players in 2022 and 2023 for what it considers gambling violations.
Martin Lycka, Entain Foundation U.S. VP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling, says there’s a silver lining to the suspensions.
“One of the upsides of the regulation of sports betting in the U.S. is the fact that these cases get detected, and the industry and others are in a position to help the leagues and others handling these cases,” Lycka says.
But Lycka also admits that part of the problem may be that athletes are not clear about what, if any, gambling activities are permissible. Tennessee Titans lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere, one of the suspended NFL players, noted via X/Twitter that “The betting I engaged in was NOT NFL related and was legal under Tennessee law. It is only being sanctioned because it occurred at the Titans facility.”
The Entain Foundation U.S. is attempting to bridge the information gap, partnering with the NFL Players Association Professional Athletes Foundation, Major League Soccer’s Players Association, and the NHL Alumni Association to provide gambling awareness educational programs. The organization also funds sessions for Epic Risk Management’s gambling harm and student-athlete protection educational programs with the NCAA.
Epic Risk Management is also a co-partner and delivery partner for the Entain Foundation’s NFLPA PAF and MLSPA partnerships.
“Our partnership with EPIC Risk Management and Entain Foundation U.S., which is the first of its kind in the sports and sports union space, ensures that our members are properly educated on the risks of problem gambling,” says NFLPA PAF Executive Director Andre Collins in a statement. “Given professional athletes’ statistical vulnerability to problem gambling, we believe this education is a vital part of the work that we do for our membership.”
In an October 2022 article, Kindbridge Behavioral Health – an Entain Foundation US partner — cited eight reasons why athletes are susceptible to gambling:
- High levels of energy and commitment
- Motivated by extrinsic rewards
- Unreasonable expectations of winning despite the odds
- Competitive spirit – they don’t like defeat
- Distorted optimism
- Quest for perfectionism
- Prepared to make sacrifices
- Often intelligent with high IQ levels.
Bill Pascrell III, an Entain Foundation U.S. board member, says that whether the athletes from the Iowa universities and the NFL are the tip of an iceberg or merely outliers, the accusations prove that there is a need for more outreach and education. And not just among the players.
“So many of these young athletes have agents who also need to be equally educated,” Pascrell says. “It’s got to be at the top of the thought process, particularly with the development of NFT issue, and other challenges in and around collegiate and professional sports.
“Why wouldn’t you want to take a more proactive approach? Because once you’re found in violation, there’s a chance you may never return to the game. And so, it’s important to the integrity of the game. It’s important to the health of the athletes and the coaches and officials. We’ve done a lot, but we have a lot more to do.”
Information about problem gambling is available for athletes. But how are they going to access it? Pascrell believes that it is important to address the issue as early as high school, although reaching out to athletes at that age is controversial.
Lycka believes that professional athletes would be helped by “refreshers” about gambling information. For rookies, the annual NFL Scouting Combine, where potential draft picks gather for testing, would be the perfect setting to disseminate information. For veteran players, he suggests holding sessions at training camps.
“You need to find a sensible way of doing it,” Lycka says, noting that he and Pascrell have worked with former NFL wide receiver Amani Toomer, through Epic Risk Management, to address gambling addictions at sessions with former players. But Pascrell believes it’s never too early to start educating athletes – even in high school — about what they should not ever do.
“We should be educating players as early as we can that it is axiomatic, it is wrong, it is illegal, it violates the house rules to bet on your own games,” Pascrell says. “And you should also be careful about betting on anything, in particular. It could be misunderstood – I’ll bet on my buddy’s action and hope they don’t mind, we’ll trade –there’s always the dodginess behind the scenes. We have a long way to go. There’s no bullet-proof solution. It’s an ongoing, developmental process.”
The cost to players has been significant. In late August, Iowa Hawkeyes defensive tackle Noah Shannon was suspended for the season by the NCAA for making a wager on another university team in another sport. Earlier this year, the NFL indefinitely suspended Detroit Lions C. J. Moore, Demetrious Taylor, and Quintez Cephus, Isaiah Rodgers and Rashod Berry of the Indianapolis Colts, the Denver Bronco’s Eyioma Uwazurike, and Shaka Toney of the Washington Commanders. Three other players received shorter suspensions, and wide receiver Calvin Ridley, currently with the Jacksonville Jaguars, missed the entire 2022 season for wagering on NFL games.
For current collegiate and professional players, Lycka has one message: “Don’t bet on your team, don’t bet on your sport,” he says. “If you can avoid it, don’t bet at all because – and here’s the economic incentive, if you will – it can ruin your career at any stage of your career.”
Clint Hangebrauck, Managing Director of Enterprise Risk Management at the NCAA, answered questions about sports betting on college campuses for CDC Gaming Reports:
CDC Gaming Reports: What does the EPIC Risk Management bring to your members/students?
Hangebrauck: EPIC provides a comprehensive and customized sports wagering gambling harm prevention and educational program for NCAA student-athletes, coaches and administrators. EPIC delivers the programming at college campuses with a focus on sports wagering awareness, protecting the integrity of competitions, gambling addiction harms and student-athlete well-being.
Q: Are there any programs/educational tools provided EPIC Risk Management that have been especially helpful to the NCAA?
A: EPIC’s in-person campus educational sessions have been very helpful, as the lived experience model is relatable and captivating for NCAA student-athletes. Additionally, the train the trainer session is beneficial for athletics administrators and coaches – equipping them with the skills necessary to identify wagering behaviors and offer continued education to student-athletes on the importance of integrity and the harms of problem gambling.
Q: What key aspects of responsible gambling programs are particularly important to get across to students?
A: All aspects of responsible gambling programs are important to convey to college-aged students. It is critical for this age population to have comprehensive education in this space to lessen their risk of problem gambling and help protect their mental health and well-being.
Q: Are college students particularly at risk for problem gambling? What programs, if any, address this issue?
A: The NCAA recently commissioned Opinion Diagnostics to conduct a survey of more than 3,500 18 to 22-year-olds to better understand the prevalence of sports wagering behaviors and attitudes within the college-age population. The survey found that sports wagering is pervasive among this age demographic, with 58% having engaged in at least one sports betting activity. Problem gambling shows up in this population, with 16% having engaged in at least one risky behavior and 6% reporting that they have previously lost more than $500 on sports betting in a single day.
Programs like those offered by EPIC are key in helping to educate this age group about the harms of problem gambling and prevention methods.
The NCAA continues to work with industry leaders, mental health experts, law enforcement and regulators, actively monitoring, researching and analyzing this landscape to devise effective ways to protect student-athlete well-being and minimize gambling harm.