Betting Operators Need To End College Tie-Ins Now Before Lawmakers Do

Written By Steve Friess on April 11, 2023
State of Play Playin USA student housing college dorm

It never really made any sense to me. The first time I heard about an arrangement between an online casino and a university, it was Michigan State in January 2022 when a deal made Caesars the “official and exclusive sports betting partner and iGaming partner of MSU Athletics.”

Why, I wondered, did a university where the vast majority of students are under the legal age to gamble, need a “betting partner?” And, more importantly, how does Caesars tell anyone with a straight face that it isn’t marketing its services to minors?

Now, predictably, these types of deals are blowing up in the faces of everyone involved. An industry that only recently came to be seen by legislators and the general public as acceptable is trading away the painstakingly earned respect for what? Signage in arenas? “VIP experiences” for preferred guests? A couple of dutiful stories in the local newspaper? And the schools? Well, shame on them for seeing piles of money and putting them ahead of the well-being of the kids they claim to be providing the tools to function well in the world.

Not. Worth. It.

Read more from the State of Play column:

College students especially vulnerable to gambling addiction

“Young adults face unique risks when it comes to excessive betting,” wrote the Florida Council on Problem Gambling last week in a blog post to coincide with National Student-Athlete Day. The data is pretty alarming.

  • 75% of college students have gambled in the past year
  • 21% have used financial aid to gamble
  • 31% reported having used credit cards to fund their gambling
  • 67% of college students nationally bet on sports, including 30% of male athletes “who are at high risk for sports gambling in part due to their competitive personalities and need for action and excitement.”

This is not the casino industry’s fault – yet. Legal online casinos do an outstanding job of ascertaining bettors’ location and identity in order to prevent kids from playing. They’re doing their best with technology to only cater to the customers who should be able to play.

Then they go and make deals that are clearly intended to raise brand awareness and loyalty among the future wave of customers. When that’s a soft drink or a fast-food chain, that makes sound business sense. The reason my money and now my mortgage is at Bank of America is because 30 years ago they gave me a free water bottle at the student center at Northwestern.

College kids are notoriously strapped for cash and love freebies. Then they see the marketing coming from Caesars which offers the promise of both – “free” bets and easy money – the hook is baited.

They’re going to receive those messages and that enticement everywhere they watch sports anyway, whether it’s signage on just about every Major League Baseball backstop or promoted social media posts.  The difference is, when their university sanctions it, it sends a very different and much more dangerous message.

It doesn’t matter if Caesars prevents underage kids from playing on their sites. Anyone attempting to place a bet will find a way to do it somewhere once they’re on their phone or laptop trying. So, really, these deals are the worst of all worlds: they encourage kids to wager and funnel them directly into the illegal, unregulated realm to do so without any protections or recourse.

Legislators will stop this nonsense if casinos or schools don’t

The American Gaming Association knows this is a terrible look. It’s their lobbyists who are hearing from supportive lawmakers that these deals undermine the claims that casino companies are serious about combatting gambling addiction. That’s why last month they reworked their Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering to bar “college partnerships that promote, market or advertise sports wagering activity” and “sportsbook NIL deals for amateur and college athletes.”

So far, all the action is happening on the school or legislative side. The University of Colorado canceled its deal with PointsBet. Maryland legislators are in the process of killing a PointsBet arrangement at the University of Maryland at College Park. Faculty at Michigan State have circulated a petition, and the interim president there seems inclined to find a way out of the Caesars deal. That they ever entertained these deals is baffling enough; I’m pretty sure they don’t do alcohol or weed partnerships.

Regardless, casinos, cut your losses here. Just step up and say, “You know, this is a bad idea we didn’t think through.” Any student who is a sports fan is going to see your messages elsewhere anyway.

Drop them all. Now. In unison. Show you mean it, are contrite. Otherwise, you may not like the ways lawmakers do it for you.

Photo by Playin USA
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is the national gambling industry correspondent for Playin USA and its related local sites. He is also a contributing writer for Newsweek. A Long Island native who earned a journalism degree at Northwestern University, Friess worked at newspapers in Rockford, Illinois, Las Vegas, and South Florida before launching a freelance career in Beijing, China, where he served as chief China correspondent for USA Today. After his return to the U.S. in 2003, he settled in Las Vegas, where he covered the gambling industry and the American Southwest regularly for The New York Times, Playboy, The New Republic, Time, Portfolio, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. During that time, he created and co-hosted two successful and groundbreaking podcasts, the celebrity-interview show The Strip and the animal affairs program The Petcast. In 2011-12, Friess was a Knight-Wallace Fellow for at the University of Michigan. That was followed by a stint as a senior writer covering the intersection of technology and politics at Politico in Washington, D.C., In 2013, he returned permanently to Ann Arbor, where he now lives with his husband, son, daughter and three Pomeranians. He tweets at @SteveFriess and can be reached at [email protected]

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