Colleges quietly working with betting companies, could reap millions from student gambling

While President Joe Biden has been insisting he can simply “forgive” billions of dollars in student loans, universities have been teaming up with online sports betting companies and raking in the money by encouraging students on campus to gamble their money away.

It’s part of what The New York Times describes as a “far-reaching but secretive campaign by the nascent online sports-gambling industry” to get students to part with what little money they have in the name of Team Spirit.

And, of course, the participating colleges are making bank off the deals.

In a September 2021 email to Michigan State University’s athletic director, Alan Haller, Paul Schager, the executive associate athletic director for external relations, discussed a proposed deal with Caesars Sportsbook.

“Alan, if we are willing to take an aggressive position, we have a $1 M/year deal on the table with Caesar’s,” Schager stated.

That, according to emails obtained by The Times, turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg.

“In the end, the company proposed a deal worth $8.4 million over five years,” The Times reports. “It was, a member of the negotiating team said in another email, ‘the largest sportsbook deal in college athletics.'”

Also in 2021, Louisiana State University inked a similar deal with Caesars.

To celebrate the deal, the university sent out an email to, among others, students who were not yet 21 and not legally allowed to gamble, encouraging them to “place your first bet (and earn your first bonus).”

“And when the University of Colorado Boulder in 2020 accepted $1.6 million to promote sports gambling on campus, a betting company sweetened the deal by offering the school an extra $30 every time someone downloaded the company’s app and used a promotional code to place a bet,” The Times reveals.

It’s a disturbing trend that began in 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled that states can legalize online sports betting. Since then, online betting companies have been scrambling to pull gamblers from traditional brick-and-mortar casinos and turn them on to the joys of gambling from the comfort of their living rooms.

Or, in these cases, from their dorm rooms.

“Major universities, with their tens of thousands of alumni and a captive audience of easy-to-reach students, have emerged as an especially enticing target,” The Times explains. “So far, at least eight universities have become partners with online sports-betting companies, or sportsbooks, many in the last year, with more expected.”

But you shouldn’t count those traditional casinos out of the game.

According to The Times, “at least a dozen athletic departments and booster clubs have signed agreements with brick-and-mortar casinos.”

“For example, Turning Stone Resort and Casino is the official resort of Syracuse University’s ‘Cuse Athletics Fund,” the outlet reports. “In 2020, Texas Christian University, in Fort Worth, joined WinStar World Casino and Resort to open a new club with suites and premium seating.”

The partnerships have, the universities argue, allowed athletic departments to make up for some of the losses they suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, but critics argue they are preying on vulnerable students.

“It just feels gross and tacky for a university to be encouraging people to engage in behavior that is addictive and very harmful,” said Robert Mann, an L.S.U. journalism professor who has been vocal in his objections to the practice.

However, L.S.U.’s associate athletic director and chief brand officer, Cody Worsham, argues that the marketing of Caesars’ offerings is “responsible” and “age-appropriate.”

That commitment between the university and Caesars to somehow target students “responsibly” is “integral to a sustainable and responsible partnership benefiting our entire department, university, and fan base,” Worsham stated.

That’s great, but, according to a Louisiana State senior, “The first day sports betting was legal in the state, everyone was doing it.”

And many were doing it without their parents knowing the colleges are actively recruiting students with free bets, loyalty programs, and bonuses.

Asked what he’d do if his mom discovered the sport-betting app, the senior, Jack Krecidlo, replied, “I would say, ‘Well, L.S.U. sent me a promo code.'”

It’s a deal with the devil that could have major consequences.

“Most online gambling partnerships are just months old, so the full impact on students has yet to play out,” The Times writes. “But the risks are considerable. Sportsbooks encourage people to bet frequently, even after they rack up losses. Campus programs to treat gambling addiction and other problems are sparse, according to university officials and mental health experts.”

According to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the backdoor college deals need to be stopped.

“Burgeoning online sports betting—through undisclosed casino deals—seems like about the worst idea for colleges & students right now,” he tweeted. “This potentially addictive activity, aimed at young people with slick promotions, is clearly unconscionable. Stop Caesarizing before it spreads.”

 

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