What’s Next After Iowa College Sports Betting Scandal?

Written By Hill Kerby on August 3, 2023
Should Iowa lawmakers consider no longer allowing bets on college sports?

Four Iowa State University and three University of Iowa athletes face charges of tampering with records from an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation probe into sports wagering.

The Story County Attorney’s Office filed the criminal complaint this week, accusing four current and three former athletes of attempting to mask their identities while placing bets on college games. If convicted, the players face up to one year in county jail or two years in prison.

NCAA rules prohibit college athletes from all forms of sports betting. The investigation came after ISU self-reported approximately 15 student-athletes to the NCAA

Why is Iowa facing this problem?

Iowa online sports betting remains popular. There are nearly two dozen sportsbooks for bettors 21 and over to choose from in the state.

In May, authorities announced that 26 student-athletes at UI and ISU were under investigation for suspected gambling violations. Unfortunately, the gambling issue is not a one-off nor contained to Ames and Iowa City.

Suspicious gambling activity related to a University of Alabama baseball game in May was traced back to head coach Brad Bohannon, who was subsequently fired.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, thinks these reported violations could be “the tip of the iceberg.” 

“In surveys, the athletes self-report a high rate of gambling participation and sports betting. It wouldn’t surprise us if there’s more problems that surface.”

But why is the focus on college athletes in Iowa? Other states like Arizona and Colorado have prominent sports betting markets and a similar number of sportsbooks (Arizona has 17, Colorado 20 and Iowa 21). Yet, their student-athletes have stayed out of the news. So far. This could be the tip of the iceberg for college betting news like this. It’s safe to assume that Iowa isn’t alone.

Is it possible sportsbook advertisements are geared toward a younger audience in Iowa than in other states? Unlikely. States are cracking down on these advertisements, and operators understand the importance of promoting responsible gambling (RG) from a business standpoint. 

 Is it something in the culture? Peer pressure?

Or are gambling issues by student-athletes at Iowa’s universities just the first to become public?

Iowa State QB among student-athletes facing charges

Iowa State quarterback Hunter Dekkers headlined the list of Iowa players named in the investigation, with allegations that he used accounts under his parents’ names to place wagers.

His attorney, Mark Weinhardt, responded to the allegation on Twitter (X).

“Hunter Dekkers denies the criminal charge brought against him. He will plead not guilty to that charge because he is in fact not guilty of that charge. This charge attempts to criminalize a daily fact of American life. Millions of people share online accounts of all kinds every day.” 

The statement concluded by saying that Dekkers would not participate in the team’s fall football camp “so he can focus on his studies and the defense of this criminal charge.”

Seven current and former UI and ISU players face charges.

  • Dekkers for allegedly placing 26 wagers on ISU sporting events.
  • Sophomore Iowa State Cyclones wrestler Paniro Johnson for allegedly placing approximately 1,283 bets, 25 on ISU events.
  • Sophomore Cyclones offensive lineman Dodge Sauser for allegedly placing 12 wagers on ISU football games.
  • Former Cyclones defensive lineman Enyi Uwazurike, the 2022 fourth-round pick of the Denver Broncos, for allegedly placing two wagers on ISU during his senior year in 2022. The NFL also suspended him last month for placing 32 bets on Broncos games during the 2022 season.
  • Iowa Hawkeyes walk-on kicker Aaron Blom for allegedly placing 170 wagers in a three-week span earlier this year.
  • Former Hawkeyes basketball player Ahron Ulis for allegedly placing approximately 1,850 wagers, nearly half of which took place while under the age of 21. He transferred to Nebraska, but the NCAA will likely ban him from taking the court.
  • Former Hawkeyes baseball player Gehrig Christensen for allegedly placing 559 wagers while under 21, totaling more than $2,400, including 23 bets on UI events.

Should lawmakers ban betting on in-state college sports?

Student-athletes placing wagers is only one side of the coin regarding recent issues with college sports betting. 

Iowa basketball guard Connor McCaffery is one of numerous players nationwide who have faced abuse as a result of their performance on the court, raising the attention of the FBI.

If wagering on college sports continues to produce problems for student-athletes, should Iowa legislators consider a ban on in-state college betting? States like Illinois do not allow wagering on college sporting events and teams.

History dictates that overarching prohibition does not work. If Iowa bans college betting, people will go to neighboring states to place their bets. Or worse, they will turn to unregulated sites, which already make an estimated $511 billion annually in the US.

All entities should come together to create a solution

The solution undoubtingly requires a multi-faceted, proactive effort to educate and incentivize bettors and athletes to make the right decisions.

RG is a team effort. The state, universities and sportsbooks should come together to produce a workable system that focuses on education. The framework is already in place.

In addition to providing licensed and secure sports betting apps and websites, operators have partnered with the National Council on Problem Gambling to form a coalition promoting RG. Colleges and the NCAA should join this coalition.

The NCAA recently updated its rules around collegiate betting violations. Surprisingly, punishments were actually lessened. Even so, students who bet on their specific NCAA sport can lose 50% of the season. If athletes bet on (or provide insider information on) their own games, they face a lifetime ban.

It must make every effort to ensure its student-athletes know not only that betting is prohibited but why.

For starters, it should mandate all its schools provide sports betting education to every athlete in sports programs. Currently, only athletes who have violated gaming requirements must take educational courses. 

On a state level, regulators should start holding universities’ feet to the fire by increasing fines for schools whose student-athletes bet on sports. Make it stiff enough that the schools put that same pressure on their athletes to comply.

Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo
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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing. He now brings his experience to PlayIA.

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