Who Will Monitor College-Sports Gambling in North Carolina?

The state has legalized sports betting. Now comes the hard part.

Now that sports betting is legal in the Bible Belt state of North Carolina, online gamblers have filled the collection plate with over $1.8 billion in total wagers and about $235 million in revenue in just the three months ending in May, according to an N.C. State Lottery Commission report. The bookmaking haul is expected to explode to $6.6 billion in the third full year of operation, according to the fiscal note attached to House Bill 347.

The revenue claimed by the state from an 18-percent tax and various fees is estimated at $74.9 million in fiscal year 2024-25, rising to $100.6 million by 2027-28. A hefty portion will flow into the General Fund. But the statute also provides for appropriations to a number of organizations, including at least $300,000 annually to support each of the 13 athletic departments in the UNC System, excluding UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State.

Concerns are being raised about the need for strong sports-gambling regulation to avoid scandal.UNC-System spokeswoman Jane Stancill provided information from chief financial officer Jennifer Haygood that paints a rosy financial picture of gambling proceeds:

“To date the System has received $4.7 million in sports wagering tax revenue allocations. When the legislation was passed, legislative staff estimated our system would receive approximately $15.6 million in FY25. While it is too early to accurately project annual revenues, we expect actual revenue allocations to exceed this estimate.”

But as the state becomes awash in online betting bucks, concerns are being raised about the need for strong regulation, rigorous monitoring, and educational programs to avoid the scandal and illegal activities that are the seamy—some might say inevitable—underside of the industry. The responsibility for those measures is diffuse.

“Everybody in college sports often likes to point the finger to somebody else. […] It’s true the schools have responsibility, and the NCAA has responsibility, but the conferences have responsibility too,” said Bill Squadron, an assistant professor of sport management at Elon University who has worked with integrity-monitoring companies in the sports industry.

At the state regulatory level, Van Denton, Lottery Commission communications director, said his agency has near-daily interaction with the eight licensed sports-wagering operators in North Carolina. It has the power to suspend or revoke the licenses of wayward operators and assess civil penalties.

“Sports wagering is a highly regulated industry. Sports wagering licensees are subject to federal and state laws, as well as rules adopted by the Commission concerning sports wagering in North Carolina,” Denton said.

But are wagers limited to professional athletics? No. “Sports wagering account holders in North Carolina can place wagers on sport activity at all colleges and universities, independent and public, so long as the events and wagers are included in the Sports Catalog,” Denton said. The Sports Catalog is a list of sports governing bodies and leagues for which an operator is authorized to offer and accept approved wagers.

Neither legislation nor UNC-System policy provide an oversight mechanism for gambling on and at the state’s universities.Neither do current legislation or UNC-System policy provide an oversight mechanism for gambling on and at the state’s universities. “The General Assembly did not provide the Commission with any authority to direct any action of state or private colleges or universities. Similarly, the enabling legislation does not direct the state’s colleges and universities to establish programs related to wagering,” Denton said. “Colleges and universities—as well as their sports-governing bodies—are better positioned to determine, design, and implement the oversight or enforcement programs they want in place on campus or for their athletic programs or student athletes.”

Hope Williams, president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU), said that member campuses “are certainly aware of the sports wagering law, but we have not taken a position on it. We will be continuing to have discussions with legislative leadership on this issue.”

Most NCICU campuses are part of the NCAA, with some in the NAIA and one in the NJCAA.

“Athletics at NCICU institutions are managed individually within the rules and guidelines of the national association with which the college or university is affiliated. Individual campuses also determine whether to have other policies in conjunction with what is regulated by the national associations and conferences,” Williams said.

Because no gambling revenue is currently available to NCICU colleges and universities under the new state law, “NCICU institutions continue to be bound by campus and association policies, and there has been no need for NCICU to begin to issue guidance,” Williams said.

Brad Hostetter, Atlantic Coast Conference deputy commissioner for policy and institutional services, said there is a shared responsibility for oversight and enforcement among the campuses, the NCAA, and the conference offices to ensure that players, coaches, and staff are not violating regulations. Recent scandals include suspicious bets and insider trading involving the University of Alabama baseball team, as well as illegal bets placed by University of Iowa and Iowa State University student-athletes. Earlier this year, an NBA player was banned for life for betting-related transgressions.

Maintaining the integrity and ethics of athletics is a growing worry as gambling and the megabucks it generates have become more mainstream since the U.S. Supreme Court repeal of PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Provision Act of 1992). The Court ruled that the ban violated state sovereignty, and now 38 states allow sports wagering.

There is a shared responsibility for gambling enforcement among the campuses, the NCAA, and the conference offices.“The folks on the front line are those on campus. […] They’re overhearing conversations in the training rooms and in the locker rooms, and on the planes and buses and all that kind of stuff. They’re going to see things or potentially hear things before anybody [else] hears them,” Hostetter said.

“When you’re on campus and you’re tracking this stuff, you’re worried about any large movements in the game line that are unexplainable,” he continued. “You worry about those on campus with information about the status of student athletes from an injury standpoint, or eligibility standpoint, and making sure that they understand that they can’t use that information in a way that would impact the gambling spread, for example. Misuse of insider information is something that people on campus worry about.”

The NCAA maintains a back-end enforcement process because there are NCAA rules related to sports gambling.

The ACC “has generally [played] a very supportive educational role,” Hostetter said. “We don’t have the enforcement authority that the NCAA does, for example, but we have the ability to help our schools work through any issues.”

This past winter and spring, the ACC partnered with the NCAA to provide education programs to its Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which comprises student-athletes from member campuses and the staff members who work with them. Medical professionals who work with student-athletes were given a presentation at the ACC Health and Safety Summit a couple of weeks ago in Charlotte. Those events were all contracted with EPIC Global Solutions, a national firm founded to prevent and reduce harm from gambling in sports through educational and informational training and presenters with real-life experience of gambling problems.

EPIC also developed state-by-state gambling guides for sports wagering in each of the ACC’s 12 current and future states. That information was sent to each of the conference’s 15 member campuses earlier this month. It included resources as well as individual offices in each state where schools can call to seek support for gambling problems or gambling questions.

On June 4, the ACC announced a partnership with Integrity Compliance 360 to “provide each member of the collegiate conference with data insights while also keeping an eye on irregular contest-level officiating and wagering patterns.”

The ACC previously worked on a strategy for college sports to be excluded from sports-wagering legislation.“The ACC’s partnership with Integrity Compliance 360 is extremely important as we continue our dedication to upholding the integrity and true spirit of college athletics,” ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said in the statement. “Through this collaboration, our member schools will have access to cutting-edge technology for monitoring and ensuring the fairest and safest environments for student-athletes nationwide.”

The ACC had been working on a strategy to lobby federal lawmakers for college sports to be excluded from sports-wagering laws, “but that kind of got subsumed into the efforts in Congress on Name, Image and Likeness and what has evolved into the broader college sports reform agenda,” Hostetter said. The Supreme Court in 2021 said that the NCAA had long violated antitrust law, thus clearing the way for the NIL initiative allowing student-athletes to be paid for their autographs, product promotions, event appearances, and the like.

“Things are evolving pretty quickly” with the advent of sports wagering, NILs, rule-changes that relax restrictions on athletes entering transfer portals, and major conference realignments, Hostetter said.

Elon’s Squadron agrees that “college athletics is undergoing a seismic shift.” He traces the disruption to decades of huge television revenues for successful football and men’s basketball teams. Instead of plowing that windfall into the academic mission, schools largely funneled it back into athletic departments to create more successful teams that brought more exposure, more marketing, and more money.

“They viewed it as an arms race to continue to have the most successful athletic programs, and that meant crazy competition for coaches” with eight-figure salaries, Squadron said. The newfound wealth turned the NCAA into a profit-making machine, which led to the antitrust lawsuits and a weaker NCAA.

Just as with television money, Squadron foresees gambling profits continuing to soar.

The impact of the Supreme Court’s decision six years ago last month “has only scratched the surface,” he said, because not all states—including two of the largest, California and Texas—have legalized gambling as of yet. Nevertheless, “those states will legalize. It’s just a matter of time.”

Betting on more obscure events makes it riskier that something improper could occur.That makes partnering with integrity-monitoring services all the more critical.

“They have algorithms that monitor movements in the betting odds. They’re able to spot things pretty quickly that seem anomalous,” Squadron said. Betting on more obscure events makes it riskier that something improper could occur. For example, the odds are not great that a Michigan-Ohio State football game would be tainted. “But if you get a very small Division II school playing another Division II school, and you allow betting on that, and these are athletes not doing NIL deals, is there more risk? I think there probably is.”

Prop bets also need to be part of the regulatory discussion. Hostetter said that the ACC and NCAA have taken a very strong position opposing that form of wagering. Squadron agrees: “It is the issue of highest concern,” he said, and many states have already taken steps to prohibit prop bets for college sports.

“I think it’s a real issue that needs to be studied carefully and potentially seriously curtailed,” Squadron said. It isn’t difficult to understand why. A prop bet is a side wager that focuses on individual possibilities, such as whether someone will strike out in the first inning or get more than 30 yards in the first quarter.

“A single individual can control that and potentially can have bets made that don’t compromise the outcome of a game,” Squadron said.

In short, there are numerous problems associated with gambling, but Squadron thinks they can be dealt with better now that wagering is legal and in the open.

“An important thing to bear in mind is that people have been betting on sports for decades before the Supreme Court decision. People like to bet on sports,” Squadron said. “But make no mistake, it’s here to stay.”

Dan E. Way is the senior communications manager in the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer. He was previously a writer for Carolina Journal and the editor of the Chapel Hill Herald.