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Editorial: Sportsbooks advertising within college campuses

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Despite the lucrative nature of college – casino operator deals, many critics question the ethics of this ongoing practice.

Adverts for sportsbooks are becoming an increasingly common sight at college football games nationwide. The New York Times has described the phenomenon as the ‘Caesarization’ of campus life, with Caesars being one of the most prominent sportsbooks moving into this advertising space.

The great deal that started this trend was between Caesars and Michigan State University (MSU) in 2021. An official sent an email to the university’s athletic director, Alan Haller, saying the sponsorship deal could be worth up to $1m a year.

In the end, it turned out to be far more lucrative with MSU receiving $1m a year from Caesars, which was the “largest deal in college athletics ever.”

This made other universities take notice and many such deals have been struck since; Louisiana State University (LSU) signed a similar deal with Caesars later in 2021. Furthermore, they sent an email encouraging students to place their first wager, despite many of the recipients of the email being under 21.

To date, at least eight universities have become partners with online sports betting companies, many within the space of the last year. Athletic departments have argued that the funding was necessary following budget cuts caused by Covid-19.

These partnerships allow for extra funding, the signing of marquee coaches and the ability to build winning sports teams who can compete at the highest levels of the NCAA. Haller said the partnership enabled: “significant resources to support the growing needs of each of our varsity programs.”

There has been pushback over the ethical side of these arrangements, however. LSU journalism professor Robert Mann commented: “It just feels gross and tacky for a university to be encouraging people to engage in behavior that is addictive and very harmful.”

Some aspects of these deals do appear to break the Responsible Marketing Code, published by the American Gaming Association, which states that gambling should not be marketed toward underage people.

A case in point is a 22-year-old Syracuse student named Charlie, who started gambling when he was still in his freshman year at college. He commented: “It went from $5 bets, $10 bets, and $200 bets to $500. I couldn’t stop countless times. I’ve turned $100 into $2,000 and then, within the same hour, lost all of that $2,000 plus another $500.

“And then you can imagine how depressing that feels, right? It’s just – it’s horrible.” Charlie says that his gambling addiction affected his mental health and, subsequently, his grades.

Critics say this is evidence these sponsorships create underage problem gamblers and that universities are under-equipped to identify and prevent problem gambling.

University of Colorado law professor Jennifer Hendricks commented: “It’s appalling for the university to be collecting a bounty each time a student places their first bet. We are exploiting our students for profit.”

University of Pittsburgh athletic director Heather Lyke testified in front of the US Senate Judiciary Committee in 2020. She told them that sports gambling on campus has a “corrosive and detrimental impact on student-athletes and the general student body alike.”

However, at present gambling advertising remains present at college campuses and shows no signs of being expunged. The long-term ramifications of these prosperous sponsorships and promotions on the health of students remain to be fully seen.

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