Sports Betting in High School? How Underage Kids are Gambling

May 16, 2024

The wave of legalized online sports betting has now hit high schools. After years of colleges seeing notable upticks in gambling activities on campus, high school students are now finding wants to take part in sports gambling, even though most states require bettors to be at least 21 years old. 

As John Jay High School student Colby Cotrone outlined in a winning piece he wrote for the NY Post Scholars Contest, conversations among students about betting odds, picks and parlays have become commonplace at school. But how are high schoolers even able to bet in New York, where the legal age is 21+ years old? Kids and gaming companies have gotten creative. 

How are high school age kids able to gamble on sports?

The majority of states that have legalized sports betting require bettors to be at least 21 years old. However, some jurisdictions like Montana, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Wyoming and Washington D.C. have 18+ age requirements, which gives a small segment of high school students in those states access to sportsbooks. There are also “DFS 2.0” hybrid fantasy-meets- betting platforms that are available to those 18+ years old in many states. Some states have already shut down those operators due to the essentially indistinguishable nature of their products and regular player props in sports betting. But even in states that have a 21+ required age, students are still finding ways to access sports betting platforms.

There are three main routes that high school students are taking to avoid the age requirement: sports sweepstakes platforms and offshore sportsbooks or local (new-age) “bookies.”

Sports Sweepstakes Operators

Sweepstakes - sometimes referred to shorthand as “sweeps” - platforms oftentimes also present themselves as social sportsbooks or free-to-play contests. The minimum age to participate on many of these platforms is 18 years old. They are unregulated and therefore operate in many states where regulated sports betting is not legal.

They seem to have found a legal loophole - for now - and offer their platform to younger ages since they claim to not be real-money operator, instead using “coins” or “tokens” that can be converted into cash. They work similarly regulated sportsbooks in that users still make picks in hopes of winning prizes (cash or other kinds). Operators like Fliff have captured a large share of young users by advertising with messaging like, “Play for free and earn rewards to experience the sweat without the financial risk!” Fliff CEO Matt Ricci once referred to his product as an “introductory tool” for those curious about sports gambling, and as Cotrone wrote, “if this doesn’t sound like the epitome of a gateway, I don’t know what does.”

Offshore Sportsbooks & Bookies

Offshore books are illegal in the United States, but operate from outside of the country (hence “offshore”) so have continued to attract thousands of U.S. bettors despite legal options being available in the majority of states. Since they are unregulated, they bring in bettors who are not in regulated states, underage users and those who prefer to bet on credit (instead of depositing first) or are looking to avoid paying taxes on potential winnings like they would using a regulated, legal gambling platform. There are no consumer protection or responsible gaming measures in place at offshore sportsbooks, which makes them extremely dangerous, especially for high school students who may not fully realize the risks associated with them. 

High schoolers may also use modern versions of “bookies” as well. In today’s age of easy money transfers using platforms like Venmo, CashApp, Zelle or PayPal, there’s no need to meet a sketchy bookie in an alley to pay off losses or receive winnings in cash. Many bookies nowadays use “pay per head” (PPH) sportsbook websites that look similar to normal sportsbooks, but there is no money exchanged on the site itself. Users have a balance of funds (that usually starts as a credited amount) and either pay or receive payment when their balance goes above or below an agreed threshold. 

Gambling among high school students: Stats & trends

More than three-quarters of the states have legalized some form of sports betting, and opportunities to gamble have become more easily accessible than ever. One recent study showed that 60-80% of high school students reported gambling at least once in the last year, per the National Council on Problem Gambling.

In another study performed by Yale Medicine, approximately 1% of adults in America are suffering from a gambling addiction. That percentage jumps to 2-7% among youths because it’s common for a gambling problem to develop in teenagers and young adults (Yale Medicine). Even with the staggering increase in gambling problems reported among young adults, high schools still do not usually provide any education around gambling addictions and the dangers that come with betting. 

College students also gambling more often

Unlike high school, it is legal for plenty of college students to gamble. Once college students turn 21 years old and are in a state that has legalized sports betting, they are free to gamble. However, plenty of college students who have not yet turned 21 or are in a state that has not passed legalization for sports betting still find a way to sports bet. This has led to approximately 75% of college students gambling, either legally or illegally, in the last year. Of that group, about 18% gamble daily or weekly, according to College Gambling.

Yale Medicine concluded that college students gamble at a higher rate than the general public. Even then, only about 22% of colleges across America offer education on the dangers of sports betting and gambling addiction (per College Gambling). This epidemic has reached thousands of high school and college campuses around the country.

Gambling Addiction resources & treatment options

Resources are available if you, your child or someone else you know could benefit from a free assessment or direct access to gambling addiction treatment. One option is Birches Health, which offers gambling addiction telehealth treatment. You don’t need to leave the comfort of your home as all appointments with specially trained clinicians are held virtually. About 90% of patients feel an increase in quality of life after treatment at Birches, and the best part is many have $0 out-of-pocket costs. 

Sources:

High Stakes for High Schoolers: Wanna bet teens need gambling education?

Gambling Disorder > Fact Sheets > Yale Medicine

Fact Sheet: Gambling on College Campuses – CollegeGambling.org

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