The legalization of sports gambling two years ago in the United States sent shockwaves through the collegiate sports landscape. As states started to pass legislation, administrators scrambled to assess the impact of sports gambling on collegiate sports becoming more accessible to bettors.
A partnership between the University of Colorado in Boulder and Denver-based PointsBet USA might provide a roadmap for administrators and sports gambling providers attempting to navigate the new paradigm.
“We’re in the infancy stage, and I can tell you from our side and our partner’s standpoint, we’re evaluating this day by day,” said University of Colorado associate athletic director Lance Gerlach Wednesday during the panel discussion “College Sports: Adapting to the New World of Betting” at the Betting on Sports America virtual conference. “But we’re really excited about this partnership.”
Eric Foote, chief commercial officer of Points Bet USA, said the partnership not only provides his company with visibility in Colorado, but is also a way to tap into the university’s talent pool.
“We wanted to put a flag in our home state and be committed to the community,” Foote said. “Not only in Denver, but the entire state of Colorado. We consider it one of the first-class universities for tech talent, and at heart we are a tech company that is in sports betting and online casino operations. We want to recruit some of the best minds that are out there.”
“We took more of a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach,” added Gerlach, noting that the University of Colorado worked closely with state legislators to ensure on element of sports betting was not available: prop bets based on individual performances.
Prop bets are a point of contention for administrators and the NCAA. Naima Stevenson, deputy general counsel for the NCAA, said the organization is adamantly against prop bets based on individual performances.
“That’s not a big market as I understand right now in college (betting),” Stevenson said. “And we certainly don’t want that to be the trend. … It’s in no one’s interest as the gaming industry and regulators mature with college athletic that you would have an easier path toward any kind of integrity issues when you are talking about individualized performances at the college level.”
Stevenson also said the operators and state legislatures should work closely with colleges and universities to protect student athletes.
“Our student athletes will be accessible in a way that professional athletes are not,” Stevenson said. “They will be sitting in class with people who will potentially be wagering on your competition. That’s just a different construct that we have. You don’t have people sitting next to LeBron James who also might be wagering on his activity.”
The NCAA has also invested in education efforts, making sure that student athletes know that while sports betting is legal, “it’s still not an activity that they themselves can engage in,” Stevenson said. “That’s a pretty important messaging point.”
Tassos Kaburakis, associate director at St. Louis University, thinks that as sports gambling becomes more mainstream, legalization presents some challenges for collegiate athletics. While there are more partnerships and interactions between sports betting operators and colleges, Kaburakis said balancing “top-notch sports competition and commercial activities with the essential proposition that is a balanced education and sport in the world of the NCAA” has yet to be finalized.
The question remains: Is increased revenue, which might be used to help save college athletic programs that might be cut because of funding issues, worth the risk?
Sports gambling “adds a lot more issues to deal with,” Kaburakis said. “Issues that deal with the traditional aspects of seeing this activity as potentially more fertile ground for corruption. Is it really more fertile ground for corruption when compared to sporting-goods agencies trying to sign student athletes? Or is it an opportunity, at such a crucial time, particularly now post-COVID, to see more of those interactions that would lead to more win-win cases and more revenue, sustainable business models that could potentially save some of those programs and support and preserver the opportunities we like to see in that student athletes have across NCAA sports?”
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