March Madness and College Sports Betting

March Madness is one of the most highly-anticipated sporting events in the US sports betting calendar. With Kansas Jayhawks and the North Carolina Tar Heels facing off in one of the most spectacular US sporting events, the game will mark the end of 2022 March Madness for another year. Monday night’s long-awaited NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship event is expected to bring in millions of viewers from around the country (and the rest of the world).

While March Madness and the NCAA tournaments are incredibly popular among US sports gamblers, it is also popular with college bettors hoping to grab a piece of the action and excitement. The event typically sees billions of dollars wagered each year, yet 2022’s competition will be its biggest year yet, with the launch of legal sports betting in many additional US states this year. It is expected that 45 million Americans will place bets on March Madness this year. 

However, there’s always the discussion around the benefits of legal, regulated gambling compared to the potential harm it brings. And when it comes to betting on college sports, the debate intensifies further because of the possible introduction of gambling to younger people. Still, what about the positive aspects it brings, like fan engagement, exposure to collegiate sports, and tax revenues that will eventually support education and other critical public services?  

Evolution of Regulated Sports Betting

The US Supreme Court overruled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) back in 2018. After declaring the act unconstitutional, US states were given the right to legalize and regulate their own sports betting and online gambling markets. Over 30 states and Washington DC have legalized sports wagering, whereas online sports betting is legal and live in more than 18 of these jurisdictions. 

If we compare this to the 19 US states with regulated sports betting industries in 2021, we expect a significant increase in revenue and placed wagers on 2022’s March Madness games. Ultimately, this means that over 100 million American adults can wager on the event. However, this year, a record-breaking number of college students will be among the predicted 45 million American sports bettors placing wagers. 

The US’ View on College Sports Betting

Kansas and North Carolina’s National Championship game Monday night will mark the end of a tournament where more US college students could wager on their favorite teams. Whether these young gamblers wished to show some collegiate spirit or place bets on the country’s top NCAA basketball teams, the expansion of regulated gambling ultimately allowed this increase in betting excitement and interest. 

With a rapid increase in the number of US states to permit legal sports betting in the last year, more bettors than ever before can visit land-based sportsbooks and online sports betting sites. In fact, the American Gaming Association (AGA) suggested that around 17% of the adult population (or just over 45 million Americans) are expected to place over $3.1 billion in bets on March Madness in 2022. 

However, different US states hold contrasting views and regulations on betting on collegiate sports. Some are more open to the idea than others. For example, states like Michigan and Louisiana have no additional restrictions on wagers made on in-state college sports teams. On the other hand, states like Indiana and Colorado allow betting on in-state college sports teams but not on proposition wagers. Prop bets are wagers tied to an individual player’s performance instead of the final outcome of a game. 

Yet, despite these conflicting opinions, you have to be 21 or older in most US states to gamble at land-based and online gambling venues legally. Still, young bettors at college campuses across the US are likely to get caught up in the excitement. Similarly, betting on collegiate sports, like the NCAA and March Madness, can come with many advantages.

The Benefits of Collegiate Sports Betting

Betting on March Madness creates fan engagement and can bring more revenue to colleges and educational institutions across the country. With the NCAA tournaments and March Madness being particularly popular with young bettors, sportsbooks and betting sites are doing more to attract and cater to these types of gamblers. 

For example, Michigan State University revealed a multi-year partnership with the Caesars Sportsbook app back in January 2022. This alliance grants the sports betting brand naming rights to premium seating sections at Spartan Stadium, the home field of the MSU Spartans. Similarly, the partnership has also allocated Caesars with signage at MSU football, hockey, and basketball games.

In exchange for this collaboration, Caesars Sportsbook will reward its bettors (including MSU students, staff, and alumni) with VIP experiences and exclusive hospitality through its unique loyalty program. Yet, that’s not all the brand will offer. Caesars has vowed to supply student scholarships, “internships, and professional development opportunities” for students taking up careers in the sports industry at MSU. 

Similarly, the sports betting app has demonstrated its dedication to preventing problem gambling through this partnership. Caesars will also provide annual funds to support student-athlete responsible gaming education. By taking these issues seriously, it’s clear that Caesars truly cares for its users and young bettors. 

Many other colleges across the US have also entered into exclusive partnerships with top sports betting operators. For example, Louisiana State University with Caesars and the Universities of Colorado and Maryland with PointsBet. Both operators have made conscious efforts to take responsible gambling seriously and ensure they operate responsibly to college bettors. 

These alliances indicate that betting on March Madness and collegiate sports wagering can have many positive effects, both for young gamblers and sports betting operators. 

Harmful for Young Bettors?

However, many believe that this increase in regulated sports betting may put young gamblers and college athletes at risk. Take Stevin “Hedake” Smith and the Arizona State point-shaving scandal as a prime example. In the mid-1990s, Smith was a two-time All-Pac-10 selection and point guard for Arizona State University. Yet, in 1994, he and an ASU teammate received over $20,000 for shaving points in a match against Oregon State, which resulted in a prison sentence.  

Alongside potentially and allegedly promoting match-fixing among college athletes, a number of gambling experts have raised concerns over these partnerships between colleges and sports betting operators. For example, Christine Reilly, the senior research director of the ICRG (International Center for Responsible Gaming), stated that college students and those between 18 and 25 years old are specifically vulnerable to compulsive sports betting habits because their brains are not fully formed.

Similarly, the director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors at McGill University, Jeffrey Derevensky, had similar concerns. In particular, Derevensky noted that he is concerned over US states that allow prop wagers since they can encourage young bettors to place multiple bets during a game, which may lead to addictive behavior. 

Derevensky stated that “sports wagering used to be discontinuous, in that you had to wait until the end of the match or game to learn if you won or not.” He continued, “Now, it is becoming continuous. We know that the more it is continuous, the activity tends to engage people frequently and more often. So they’re doing sports wagering at a more rapid rate.”

Advocating Responsible Gambling Across all Age Groups

To combat this, gambling experts have expressed that colleges that have formed partnerships with sportsbooks and betting apps must ensure there are efficient barriers in place to ensure students do not become addicted to gambling and develop unhealthy habits. Sports bettors and young gamblers can take advantage of responsible gambling tools and support at sites if they wish to better control their gambling behaviors. 

Still, as more US states legalize regulated sports betting, it will become more popular on college campuses. While March Madness is over for another year, there is still plenty of excitement in the NCAA and colligate sports betting calendar. 2022’s college football season will kick off in late August, yet college gamblers and other American bettors can wager on exciting sports and markets throughout the year. 

Beyond the commitment that legal sports betting brings to promoting responsible gambling, the sportsbooks themselves invest a lot of money and effort into tackling problem gambling by providing resources and tools and contributing to gambling-addiction support organizations. And then, there is the education of youngsters that is key, to understand that sports betting is a form of entertainment, and not a way to earn money. 

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