In West Virginia, it is legal to gamble on college sports. Since the state has two D1 football teams, collegiate wagering means big business for the WV sports betting market. Now the activity is spreading to more states, with some sports betting operators partnering with colleges and universities.
In reaction to this, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has teamed up with two other organizations to educate student-athletes on responsible gambling.
Together, they deliver face-to-face prevention programs to this “potentially high-risk population,” as John Millington, director of sports partnerships with Epic Risk Management, calls student-athletes.
A leading consultancy worldwide in gambling harm minimization, Epic is one of the three entities involved in the effort. The third is the Entain Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting responsible gaming, sports integrity, and corporate compliance.
Entain’s five-year plan includes investing $132 million globally into responsible gambling initiatives, including this one. Those with access to the education and awareness sessions include:
- Game officials
- Health care personnel
- Support personnel
About the Epic Risk Management responsible gambling curriculum
Epic has been presenting Entain-funded programs since 2020 and expanded its alliance with 40 NCAA teams this past January. Stan Wilcox, NCAA executive vice president of regulatory affairs, said that the partnership was the organization’s latest adaptation to increasingly legalized sports betting.
“The NCAA continually assesses the evolving sports wagering landscape, and we are committed to providing tools, resources, and educational initiatives for our schools and conferences,” he said.
He called the risks associated with sports betting’s growing availability “abundant” and Epic’s educational curriculum “invaluable.”
So far, 46 colleges have participated in the Epic program, available across all NCAA divisions. And just this past year, the number of colleges welcoming the initiative climbed by 30%.
Epic’s curriculum includes the following:
- Live in-person workshops
- Live seminars
- On-demand virtual resources
- Prerecorded sessions
The Epic team includes people with lived gambling addiction experience. Danielle Davison, the director of compliance services in Clemson University’s athletics department, said their personal stories “captured” the audiences at her school.
She added that the program had helped those involved understand the psychological connection between “the highs associated with winning in athletics and a similar high experienced by problem gamblers.”
Additional gambling-adjacent risks for student-athletes
According to a report by the National Council on Problem Gambling, students in higher education have higher rates of problem gambling than the general population. The NCPG also reported that college and university student-athletes are more at risk than the general school population.
But being on the gambling end doesn’t present the only risk for student-athletes. That’s because as sports betting increases, student-athletes may also be enticed into fixing games for money.
Kenny White, vice president of data integrity at Don Best Sport, pointed out that “amateur athletes are at the highest risk because there are no paychecks. They don’t make any money.”
And unlike pros, many student-athletes don’t have a brand they can monetize (unless they have a NIL agreement).
Jake Williams, general counsel for the US branch of Sportsradar, also acknowledged the vulnerability of college athletes to the monetary temptation of game fixing. “If they do it once, that’s it … They’re going to do it forever,” he said.
He added that student-athletes don’t understand that bookies will never let them out of this Faustian bargain.
On the other hand, according to American University’s The Eagle, N. Jeremy Duru, a professor and expert in sports law, thinks that legalization may remove the incentive for fixing games, sort of like exposing the practice to sunlight.
Even student-athletes not participating in fixing may face the danger posed by angry bettors holding them responsible for game outcomes.
Neighbor Virginia educating younger students on responsible gambling
While the NCAA/Epic/Entain program concentrates on college students, neighboring Virginia is trying to protect even younger students from gambling addiction.
This past spring, the governor signed a bill requiring public schools to teach students about gaming risks. It also requires the Virginia Board of Education to develop educational materials about responsible gambling and distribute it those to schools.