SBC Summit: Colleges wrestle with protecting student-athletes from sports betting pressures

May 9, 2024 11:55 AM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
May 9, 2024 11:55 AM

As the NCAA’s Managing Director of Enforcement and Development, Mark Hicks investigates all sorts of issues related to sports gambling. And sometimes people who should know better are the cause of problems.

Story continues below

One incident stands out for its sheer volume. Recently, Hicks discovered that a coach at a Division I institution made 9,500 bets in just the last eight months. Approximately 600 of those wagers were on college contests, 60 on games or matches at his own school.

“That individual is absolutely educated on the rules. Absolutely,” Hicks emphasized Wednesday during the panel ‘The College Controversy Continues: Where’s the Final Destination for University Sports’ at the SBC Summit North America at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, New Jersey. “What goes into that choice, to put themselves and their career at risk?”

Hicks’s example was one of many discussed by a panel that received an avalanche of questions from the audience. Moderator Paul Buck, EPIC Global Solutions CEO, apologized at session’s end for not being able to relay more audience questions to the panel.

One of the issues confronting colleges is the rapid speed of adoption of sports betting across the country. According to Gary Smith, Jr., vice president of operations for Magnolia Companies of Louisiana and a former senator in the Bayou State, “Sports betting has well surpassed anything we projected when we were contemplating and passing it. We knew it was going to be popular, but it has far exceeded all expectations.”

Smith noted the short-lived partnership between Caesars and LSU as an example of how some sports-betting ventures were ill conceived. He also noted that starting in August 2024, Louisiana will ban proposition bets. “We don’t want to put that pressure on young athletes to perform and have to answer to individuals who may be able to obtain access to them, who didn’t do so well in betting or maybe want to see a certain outcome.”

Hicks said that incidences of athletes being harassed by bettors has become more commonplace and has “really weighed heavily on (NCAA) President (Charlie) Baker and our staff.”

Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said issues related to sports betting aren’t new. Wagering on collegiate sporting events, through friendly bets, illegal bookmakers, or offshore sites, pre-dates the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Legalization, Steinbrecher said, was seen as being a way to better protect student athletes subjected to threats and provocations.

Steinbrecher is hopeful that technology may be able to identify “who’s hiding behind a false name or a friend or whatnot.”

But University of Nevada Las Vegas Distinguished Fellow Responsible Gaming Alan Feldman cautioned that regulatory responses to problems in the industry, however well intentioned, were “total failures and ended up creating the opposite effect. Instead of improving the situation, they made it worse.

“One of the ways to make (sports betting) worse is to drive it underground. The moment you do, you no longer have any visibility of who’s doing what. I’m not suggesting, by the way, that there isn’t an issue with prop bets. I’m just suggesting that maybe there’s a way you could work with the industry to adjust it in a way that doesn’t place the onus on a named individual. I worry about that.

“When I see on a board the name of an 18-year-old college student as a bet you can make, there’s something disquieting about that. But just trying to eliminate that as if it’s just going to go away, obviously that’s not going to happen.”

Rege Behe is lead contributor to CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at rbehe@cdcgaming.com. Please follow @RegeBehe_exPTR on Twitter.