Colleges Are Gambling with Students’ Lives

New partnerships with online gambling operations have universities playing the role of bookie.

In 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prohibited states from allowing legal gambling. Since then, 36 states have legalized sports betting, and 26 states have legalized mobile sports betting. In the wake of these changes, online sports betting companies like PointsBet and Caesars have begun paying colleges across the nation to promote gambling services to their student bodies.

In 2020, the University of Colorado and PointsBet signed what is believed to be the first sponsorship deal between a gambling company and a university, with CU set to earn at least $1.625 million over the course of five years for advertising PointsBet to the student body. The deal included advertisements across campus, during athletic competitions, and via emails sent to the student body encouraging them to use PointsBet. Since Colorado inked its deal, at least seven other universities, including Michigan State University and Louisiana State University, have accepted similar sponsorship contracts from a variety of online gambling companies.

Unsurprisingly, these contracts have met with serious backlash from people who are concerned about the vulnerability of college-aged students to potential gambling problems. The financial guru Dave Ramsey has condemned such deals, pointing out that “the number-two addiction in North America today—and [the] fastest growing addiction in North America today—is online gambling. It starts with sports betting as a gateway drug.” Ramsey called the relevant school administrators “freakin’ idiots” for “selling out [their] own students who [they’re] supposed to be caring for.”

At LSU, several students reported receiving an email encouraging them to place their first bets.Ramsey isn’t the only public figure to express concern about these sponsorship deals, in which students often receive “free” bets in exchange for using a university-generated sign-up code. On November 25, 2022, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) sent a letter to Caesars CEO Thomas Reeg expressing his concern over betting on college campuses: “Young people should not be targeted by sports wagering advertisements, and Caesars’ deliberate marketing towards college-aged students cannot continue.”

These and similar concerns are based on both the promotion of gambling to underage students and the impact of problem gambling on of-age students’ educations and lives. At Louisiana State University, for example, several students reported receiving an email encouraging them to place their first bets. Many of the students who received this email were below the legal gambling age. And, of course, there are also the underage students who attend sporting events where betting services are advertised throughout the course of the games.

According to the National Library of Medicine, about six percent of college students could be classified as pathological gamblers, and about 10 percent could be classified as problem gamblers. Students with these issues face higher possibilities of financial difficulties, depression, alcohol and drug use, and unhealthy relationships.

Whether gambling addictions would be just as much of a problem without the sponsorship deals between online sports betting companies and colleges is difficult to assess. However, it seems clear that these deals have rightly earned the suspicion and outrage of people who are worried about the well-being of students.

Kristin MacArthur is a junior studying English, creative writing, and Spanish at Liberty University.