The New College Gamble: Is Sports Betting Harmless Fun Or A Serious Problem?

Of the students who reported gambling, 40% “strongly” believe it has become a problem for them. Another 27% believe that it is “somewhat” of a problem.

Of all the ways the pandemic disrupted higher education, perhaps few have been as monetarily costly as the hit to schools’ flagship sports programs. From Division I universities all the way down to community college powerhouses, schools depend on cash raised by popular sports teams to fund less lucrative academic programs.

In the spring of 2020, COVID-19 brought most college sports to a halt, including the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament – typically a revenue windfall for brand-name programs. A recent exposé by the New York Times finds that schools are turning to a creative if not unsavory answer to recouping some of that revenue: Sports gambling.

“Online gambling is more accessible than ever, and colleges across the U.S. have even begun partnering with online sports gambling companies and casinos in order to receive funding in exchange for promoting their services to students,”, a resource for online degree rankings and higher education planning, writes in a new report on student gambling.

“Online gambling is also one of the fastest growing addictions in North America, and college students can be particularly vulnerable.”


Earlier this month, Intelligent asked 986 current college students about their gambling habits. The online magazine found that more than half have participated in gambling while in school and 25% of them have used their financial aid money to do so.

An astonishing 85% of those who have gambled say they started because of a school sponsored promotion.

Of the 50% of students who said they have gambled in college, 15% say they gamble every day. About 21%, the largest group, say they gable about once per week. Just 18% report gambling less than once per month.

While most report to gamble less than $500 per year, one in four admit to spending more than $1,000 on gambling. Alarmingly, 60% say they have used someone else’s ID to gamble because they were underage.


Another Intelligent survey from this fall found that about 55% of parents with children under the age of 18 have started college savings accounts, with a median of $10,000 saved. Still, with tuition rising an average of 3.7% in the coming year, along with rising cost of living across popular college towns across the country, many students will still need to borrow money to fund their higher education. (In August, President Joe Biden offered many student borrowers a bit of a lifeline, forgiving up to $10,000 of student loan debt for individuals making below $125,000 per year and for families making below $250,000, but that is now tied up in federal lawsuits.)

Too much debt can hinder students’ future buying power, locking up income that could be put away for a first house or into a retirement account. So, it behooves students to not only make informed financial decisions about their school of choice, but to try to graduate with as little debt as they can manage.

But, according to Intelligent’s survey, 24.9% have used financial aid and 17% have used student loans to fund their gambling. Another 31% have used credit cards. Of student gamblers, 17% have said they have paid bills late to fund their activity while nearly 29% have spent less on food.


In its article, the New York Times reported on several universities which had made deals with online sports gambling platforms. Michigan State University struck a deal with Caesars Sportsbook worth $8.4 million over five years to bring sports betting to campus. Louisiana State University, which also had a deal with Caesar, sent an email encouraging recipients — including students — to place their first bets. At least eight universities and a dozen college athletic departments have signed agreements with casinos, the paper reports.

According to some students in Intelligent’s survey, those types of agreements are enticing them to gamble. About 26% of surveyed students said their college has promoted sports betting and, of those, 35% say their college has directly provided them with a promo code to make a bet. Another 39% have seen betting company employees on campus.

“Concerningly, of the students who both participate in gambling and say their college has promoted betting to them, an overwhelming 85% say they started gambling because of these promotions,” Intelligent finds.


The question remains, then, whether a few bets on a university football game is a big deal or a bit of fun like, say, having a solo cup of beer at a campus party. The answer likely lies in the degrees to which students engage in the activity.

At least according to Intelligent’s survey, the issue deserves attention from universities, parents, and students themselves.

Of the students who reported gambling, 40% “strongly” believe it has become a problem for them. Another 27% believe that it is “somewhat” of a problem.

More than half of all students surveyed (51%) report knowing at least one student at their school with a gambling problem.

“When asked about campus resources available to help those with gambling addictions, 41% of students said their college has these resources, 25% said their college does not have these resources, and 34% were not sure,” Intelligent found.

Read the full survey report here.


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