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Ohio college students may be at higher risk for problem gambling after sports betting legalization

Smart phone displaying sports betting apps
Jeff Chiu
The recent legalization of sports betting may cause the development of problem gambling to be more likely among college students, according to experts.

Northeast Ohio counselors are concerned that the legalization of sports betting in the state at the start of 2023 puts college students at a higher risk for problem gambling.

A conference presentation from Ohio for Responsible Gambling in 2019 reported young adults ages 18 to 24 are most at risk of developing problem gambling.

College students are especially susceptible to problem gambling related to sports betting because of the role athletics plays in college life, said Bill Newberry, a problem gambling counselor at Townhall II, a counseling office in Kent.

“Especially with the upcoming March Madness, there’s a lot of betting that goes on around that, even before it was legalized,” Newberry said.

The culture of college campuses can also lead to the development of problem gambling through cross addiction, which is the idea that an addiction in one area makes an individual more likely to develop an addiction in another area, he added.

“You’re drinking, watching the game, and everyone’s got their phone out,” Newberry said. “They’re playing. They’re on FanDuel while they’re having a beer.”

Sign-up bonuses and promotional deals also draw students in, Newberry said.

“What we’re seeing is some people getting that first big win because of the free money they can get from the different apps that is enticing them to continue to win,” Newberry said.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association prohibits student athletes from betting on sports, but this rule does not inform other students of the potential dangers of gambling.

Cleveland State University says it has not witnessed an increase in problem gambling among students since the start of legalized sports betting in Ohio at the start of the year, but individuals can access help through the university’s counseling services. Kent State University also refers students struggling with problem gambling to its counseling and psychological services.

“There’s a need for the universities to step in. The NCAA has been educating the players about it, but not so much the university students,” Newberry said. “Prevention is a big role we need to play.”

Newberry recommends universities educate incoming students on the dangers of gambling and send mass emails to students with gambling resources.

Some universities in the state have started this prevention process.

The Ohio State University created a resource page for students explaining how to bet safely and the warning signs of problem gambling when sports betting was legalized.

The University of Cincinnati was awarded a grant from the Problem Gambling Service Consultation Project to train counselors to better assist those experiencing problem gambling.

Newberry also suggested programming for incoming students on the dangers of gambling and mass emails sent to students with gambling resources such as Pause Before You Play and Change the Game.

If you or someone you know is struggling with problem gambling, contact the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline at 800-589-9966.

Jenna Bal was a news intern at Ideastream Public Media from January 2023 to May 2024.