What are the odds? Colleges fear sports betting will lead to cheating
Posted by Cover.bet
Posted on Tue, Sep 4, 2018
Every year, typically before the Super Bowl and the annual men's college basketball tournament, university sports departments issue a standard reminder to athletes and staff that gambling on games is strictly forbidden.
But with the onset of legalized sports betting in several states — Pennsylvania is poised to approve its first sports-wagering license next month — universities are bracing for an onslaught of new temptations for student athletes. Educators say they are stepping up their games to thwart cheating.
Officials are worried not just about egregious behavior, such as shaving points or fixing a game. But they also fear that gamblers, including classmates and neighbors, will try to cajole confidential data from insiders — say, about injuries or academic standing — to get an edge.
"Your mind goes to the worst possible scenario," said Phil Esten, deputy athletic director at Penn State. "You think about where student athletes could be influenced, where somebody tries to intercept them as they're going from study hall to dorm room to cafeteria, to try to get information from them."
Pennsylvania and other states have rebuffed requests to assess an "integrity fee" on sports wagering to compensate universities for compliance efforts. Pennsylvania also declined to approve a betting moratorium similar to one in New Jersey, which has banned betting on any New Jersey college teams or any college games played in New Jersey.
Bettors in Pennsylvania will be allowed to wager not just on the outcome of games involving home teams such as the Nittany Lions or the Temple Owls, but on exotic proposition bets based on performances of individual athletes, such as how many passes a quarterback will throw in a game. With interactive gaming, placing a wager will require just a click on a smartphone.
"It's going to take us some time to learn where some of the challenges are going to be, where the obstacles are going to be," said Esten. "And until you go through something the first time, you just don't know what you don't know."
Are scandals inevitable?
As sports betting becomes more pervasive and accepted, corruption is inevitable, said Tom McMillen, a former Maryland congressman who heads the LEAD1 Association, which represents the athletic directors of the 131 largest university programs.
"It's just a matter of time before you will have a scandal," said McMillen.
The NCAA, concerned about the integrity of athletics, was the lead plaintiff in the New Jersey lawsuit that led the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the federal ban on sports gambling outside Nevada. Since the May decision, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, and Mississippi have launched sports betting. All told, about 20 states have approved or are considering sports-wagering laws.
Collegiate officials contend that unpaid student athletes will be more susceptible than pro athletes to payments to influence a game's outcome, or to disclose confidential information.
"The absence of financial compensation for amateur athletes creates an opportunity for inappropriate influence," Penn State president Eric J. Barron said in a June letter to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to encourage the board to enact even a temporary ban on college sports betting.
College point-shaving schemes top many lists of nation's biggest gambling scandals, including Boston College basketball in the 1970s and Northwestern University and Arizona State University basketball teams in the 1990s.
But skeptics say that previous scandals occurred in a climate dominated by illegal gambling, and it was often the legal bookmakers in Nevada who alerted authorities about suspicious betting. They argue that legal bookmakers operate a volume business on narrow margins that depends on repeat customers, and it's in their interest to make sure that the games and wagering are perceived to be fair.
"It is the legal bookmakers in Nevada who have always had the greatest incentive, and greatest sensitivity, to spotting anything irregular," said Kate Lowenhar-Fisher, a Nevada gaming lawyer who represents the industry. She said legal sports books have a strong interest in maintaining the integrity of a sport because their money — and their gaming licenses — are on the line.
"Illegal gambling has been going on since the beginning of time on college events, and nobody has been squawking," she said. "Now with legal gambling, which includes electronic records and compliance efforts, suddenly that will be the downfall of NCAA game integrity?"
Americans bet about $150 billion a year on sports, mostly illegally, and mostly on professional sports. But college sports betting is substantial. Americans bet about $10 billion this year on the annual NCAA men's college basketball tournament, according to the gaming industry, and some experts say college football accounts for about 40 percent of all football bets placed in Nevada.
Under collegiate rules, student athletes are prohibited from betting on any sports in which there is an NCAA championship. The ban includes the popular fantasy leagues, whose biggest operators, FanDuel and DraftKings, are rapidly becoming major players in legal casino sportsbooks.
Pennsylvania's temporary sports-betting regulations make it illegal for any athlete or person with inside information to wager.