Iowa universities are in the midst of a months-long betting scandal that has raised many questions. Among those questions is a simple ask with a complex answer: What can be done?
Without changes to education, gambling regulations, and cultural perspectives on gambling, violations will continue, in Iowa and beyond, and students will remain at risk.
Education should be the top priority (and make it mandatory)
Education is the single most effective solution to curbing problem gambling and bringing student-athletes up to speed on the regulations governing sports betting. Of course, it’s easy to throw a buzzword out there and brand it as a solution. In this case, education surrounding sports betting at colleges should be:
- Mandatory for all student-athletes, coaches, and athletics staff, with loss of eligibility on the line
- Available on a voluntary basis for non-athletes
- Tailored to the members of the class (e.g., different instruction to athletes and non-athletes)
- Taught by trusted experts
- Not totally focused on anti-gambling; rather, proper framing and teaching without judgment
Mandatory gambling classes feel like a no-brainer at this point. Universities should offer them and give credit to students who attend. Athletes who forgo the training should risk loss of eligibility to incentivize participation. Coaches and staff should be required to undergo training or lose their jobs.
Other students and staff should have access to gambling-related materials as well, though those sessions should be tailored to the audience. For example, a non-athlete could learn more about interacting with friends who are athletes and how to keep from pressuring them to give out information about the team that could be used in betting.
Schools should partner with trusted providers for the education. Programs should avoid promoting an anti-gambling message. Instead, gambling should be treated as entertainment while helping students and athletes make informed choices
Case study: Learning from CSU’s recent seminar
Last month, Colorado State University offered a gambling education seminar for students and athletes. Three hundred student-athletes, coaches, and staff attended the class. It was run by Epic Risk Management in partnership with the Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado.
The course covered all the bases outlined above, unifying the messages and rules with personal stories from the instructor’s life.
Harsher fines for schools, not students
Fines can be a valuable tool in staving off gambling among student populations, but they need to be targeted properly. Schools should be financially responsible for paying fines based on student transgressions in the gambling world. This creates an incentive for the school to foster an educated and knowledgeable culture to prevent gambling issues instead of simply reacting to them.
Students shouldn’t be financially liable if the academic and athletic organizations fail to educate about gambling. The only punishments leveled against students should be applied to those who don’t attend educational sessions.
New marketing campaigns and targeted messaging
Marketing messaging is ubiquitous in the digital age, and new campaigns should reflect the “always on” mentality.
Campaigns should be targeted to students and staff but also to parents who many times don’t fully grasp the widespread nature of online gambling. Fostering a community of knowledgeable people at all levels stands to benefit students.
The NCAA and sportsbooks should be involved
Perhaps this needs no mention, but sometimes even the most obvious solutions are easy to miss. The NCAA should have strict standards for schools, requiring them to implement strategies and solutions. The NCAA punishments for students who violate gambling policies should be clear and consistent, without the constant change we’ve seen in recent months. Those punishments should also be geared toward education and rehabilitation.
IA sports betting operators have a responsibility to get involved with educating young people about their apps. I’d guess almost any operator would rather have a safe and smart college student placing bets than someone who could raise myriad issues.
What’s more, sportsbooks could partner with risk management companies (many operators already partner with risk-related businesses) to educate students on responsible gambling. From a PR standpoint, it’s an easy win. Sportsbooks showing a vested interest in safe gambling for students stand to improve their images to customers and potential users.
Prohibition doesn’t work
Certain measures may seem smart on the surface, like banning in-state college wagers or geofencing campuses, for example. But those “solutions” create more problems than they solve. They tend to push gamblers to unsafe, offshore betting operators or sketchy bookies. A zero-tolerance approach tends to have the opposite intended effect.
In this way, gambling is similar to other cultural practices such as drinking, drugs, or underage sex. Education is a much more valuable tool than prohibition.
Sports are renowned at all levels for the lessons they teach, like teamwork, dedication, responsibility, and accountability. The collective approach to sports betting should aim to foster the same traits. Gambling can be a good thing, so long as it’s treated as a form of entertainment.
The Hawkeye State has a lot of heavy lifting to do. The ongoing gambling investigations continue to reveal more and more. Seven new players were charged with tampering with records last week.
Plus, the University of Iowa recently installed a new interim athletic director, Beth Goetz. She will have to figure out how to move her school forward amid the continuing probe.
Amidst a wave of change and uncertainty, it’s hard to say what if anything, will solve Iowa’s gambling woes. One thing is clear: only a united front will bring meaningful progress.