Gambling and Sports Betting Among College Students

Jul 8, 2023

Usually, when we think of a compulsive gambler we picture Las Vegas and slots, or perhaps an older man at a horse racing track. It may come as a surprise that college students are at a high risk for gambling addiction. With the prevalence of sports betting apps, the incidence of college students gambling is getting progressively worse. In actuality, college students have the highest rate of pathological gambling in any group. 

What's Happening On College Campuses

With increased access to sports betting apps it is easier than ever to be exposed to gambling. As sports betting is becoming more available due to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling students are feeling the pressure. 

As of now, five major colleges, Michigan State, LSU, University of Maryland, University of Denver, and University of Colorado have partnerships with sports betting companies. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas has a contract with DraftKings that includes the naming of an on-campus center for gaming innovation

As a result of one of these partnerships, students at LSU received an email from Caesars offering free bets. With the online gambling industry projected to be worth over $145 billion dollars by 2030, it’s no wonder these companies are looking for a new market.

Facts about College students and gambling:

As sports betting and gambling in general are on the rise it’s important to look at the data surrounding the risk for college students

  • The rates of young individuals being at-risk for problem gambling are two to three times higher compared to adults.

  • In terms of policies in U.S. colleges and universities, nearly all of them have guidelines regarding student alcohol use. However, only 22% of these institutions have established formal policies addressing gambling.

  • Researchers estimate that approximately 75% of college students, whether legally or illegally, engaged in gambling within the past year.

  • In the United States, around 6% of college students are affected by a serious gambling problem.

  • Among college students, the most popular gambling activities include playing the lottery, with a participation rate of 41%, followed by card games at 38%, and sports betting at 23%.

  • Approximately 67% of college students partake in sports betting.

  • Nearly 30% of male athletes engage in sports betting, with the report indicating that 26% of these athletes began gambling before high school, while 66% started during high school.

  • Athletes are considered high-risk individuals for sports gambling due to factors such as their competitive personalities, desire for action and excitement, perception of social norms, and sense of entitlement.

Why College Students Gamble

There have been studies examining why college students gamble. Most students say that money was the primary reason that they gambled. Other reasons students cited were:

  • Enjoyment

  • Social reasons

  • Excitement

  • Boredom

Students who smoke, drink, or use other drugs have high rates of gambling problems. Proximity to a casino is associated with rates of gambling problems in college students.

Whatever the reason students are taking to gambling the risk and negative impact shouldn’t be ignored.  

Dangerous for Developing Brains

Gambling addiction is especially tough for college-age students as their brains are still developing. As college students wrestle with issues of pathological gambling they often feel:

  • Feelings of guilt and depression. 

  • Risky sexual behaviors.

  • Low social support.

  • Debt.  

  • Suicidal ideation.

Tragically, up to 18% of college students with gambling problems attempt suicide.

What are the Warning Signs

If you suspect you or a loved one has a problem with gambling there are some signs to be aware of. 

  • Financial difficulties: One common sign of a gambling problem in college students is experiencing financial difficulties. They may start struggling to pay their bills, accumulate debt, or borrow money from friends or family to fund their gambling habits. They might also have a sudden change in their spending habits, such as constantly asking for loans or selling personal items to cover their losses.

  • Neglecting academic responsibilities: Another sign is when a college student starts neglecting their academic responsibilities due to excessive gambling. They may skip classes, neglect assignments or studying, and their grades may begin to decline. Their focus shifts from their education to the excitement and obsession with gambling, resulting in a negative impact on their academic performance.

  • Emotional distress: College students with a gambling problem may experience emotional distress and exhibit noticeable changes in their mood and behavior. They may become irritable, anxious, or depressed when not gambling or when faced with financial losses. They might also exhibit signs of restlessness or agitation when unable to engage in gambling activities.

  • Social isolation: Gambling problems can lead to social isolation in college students. They may withdraw from their usual social activities, such as spending time with friends or participating in extracurricular activities, in favor of gambling. They might also start avoiding friends and family members who express concern about their gambling habits.

  • Lying and secretive behavior: College students with a gambling problem often engage in lying or deceptive behavior to hide the extent of their gambling activities. They may lie about their whereabouts, make excuses for their financial situation, or become secretive about their activities and expenses. This behavior is often an attempt to maintain their gambling habits while avoiding judgment or intervention from others.

It is important to note that these signs may vary from person to person, and the presence of one or more of these signs does not necessarily mean that someone has a gambling problem. If you suspect that you or someone you know may have a gambling problem, it is advisable to seek professional help from a counselor, therapist, or support group specializing in gambling addiction.

Getting Help

College students facing gambling problems can find various sources of help to address their situation and seek support. Here are some avenues for assistance:

  • Campus Counseling Services: Most colleges and universities offer counseling services that can provide support and guidance for students struggling with gambling addiction. Students can schedule appointments with counselors who specialize in addiction and receive confidential assistance.

  • Support Groups: Joining support groups specifically tailored to gambling addiction can be beneficial. These groups provide a safe space for individuals to share their experiences, learn coping strategies, and receive support from others who have faced similar challenges. Gamblers Anonymous (GA) is a widely recognized support group that holds meetings in many locations.

  • Helplines and Hotlines: There are national and regional helplines available for individuals seeking help with gambling addiction. These helplines provide confidential and immediate assistance, guidance, and referrals to local resources.

  • Online Resources: Several online platforms offer information, self-help tools, and resources for individuals dealing with gambling problems. Websites like the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) provide educational materials, self-assessment tests, and links to support services.

  • Therapy and Treatment Programs: Students may benefit from seeking professional therapy or enrolling in treatment programs that specifically target gambling addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing are commonly used approaches to address the underlying causes of the addiction and develop healthier habits.

College students with gambling problems must take the initiative to seek help and support. By utilizing these available resources, they can take steps toward recovery, regain control over their lives, and make healthier choices


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