Sports betting apps flood college campuses, fueling addiction fears

Christine Reilly, senior research director of the International Center for Responsible Gaming, a casino-backed organization, said the group is currently looking at whether the legalization of sports betting is creating more gambling addicts. She said the group is particularly concerned about 18- to 25-year-olds who are “prone to getting involved in addictive activities.”

“Your brain is not fully formed until you’re like 26, so kids in that group have a lot of vulnerability to developing these problems,” Reilly said.

Without a nationwide law restricting gambling on college sports, a patchwork of state laws and school policies have emerged. In Virginia, Oregon, New Jersey and New York, it’s illegal to bet on games played by in-state colleges, even though online sports betting is now legal in those states. A few universities — such as Purdue, St. Joseph’s and Villanova — have banned students, faculty and staff from gambling on their schools’ teams.

Last year, the National Council on Problem Gambling issued guidelines for marketing deals between colleges and sportsbooks. Among its “key safeguards,” the council said, was that gambling companies shouldn’t pay schools based on how many people they help sign up. But in at least one deal, between the University of Colorado and PointsBet Holdings Ltd., the school gets $30 for each new customer it sends to the betting app, according to Sports Illustrated.

Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist and director of the Gambling Studies Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he isn’t that concerned about ads for sports betting apps inside college arenas. But he hopes about universities directly encouraging students to use them.

“If they’re telling LSU students, ‘Sign up for this app’ and not give them any gambling addiction information that’s really problematic,” Fong said.

In a statement, Caesars said its deals with Michigan State and LSU “are focused on reaching the large base of alumni and over-21 fans,” and the company has promised “not to target those under 21.” Caesars is working with LSU and the state of Louisiana to prevent gambling disorders and is creating scholarships for students at both schools who want to pursue a career in sports, a spokesman said.

Cody Worsham, a spokesman for LSU’s athletic department, said anyone who entered an email address to get tickets to LSU games got the Caesars Sportsbook promotion. He said sending the email to fans who are under 21 was “a mistake” and the process of approving the email “was not followed the way it should have been.”

“We’re putting more robust procedures in place to ensure that our commitment to not market to students who are under 21 will be fulfilled,” he said. He added that LSU’s athletics department is teaching athletes about how to comply with gambling rules and working with the state department of health to educate students on how to gamble responsibly.

The email promoting Caesars betting app sparked a range of reactions from LSU students. Brandon Barrient, a 20-year-old junior, didn’t think the school’s marketing agreement was a big deal, likening it to beer commercials on TV being shown to people who may be too young to drink. “I think some people are hesitant about change,” he said.

But Joe Kehrli, the sports editor for the student newspaper, said some students who got the email were under 21, the legal age to gamble in Louisiana. “It was seen as an opportunity to take advantage of the students,” Kehrli said.

LSU Communications Professor Robert Mann said the email “shows a shocking lack of regard” for the well-being of vulnerable students. “They’re inviting students to gamble on LSU athletics,” he said. “It just feels too close for comfort.”

Charlie Stephens, an LSU junior, said the email was “really odd” for a university that purports to have its students’ best interests in mind. But he added that he has a sports betting app on his phone and sees legalized sports betting as better than the underground alternatives, which plenty of kids were using before it was legal.

“I’d love to see the Tigers win and make some money at the same time,” he said.

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