How are College Students Under 21 Gambling on Sports?

Apr 23, 2024

When the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018, opening the door for states to allow legal sports wagering within their respective borders, the nation braced for repercussions, both good and bad. Still, the extent of the impact that decision could have on universities and college students was unknown and perhaps grossly underestimated. 

Fast forward to April 2024, and we have already witnessed the coming and going of several multi-year partnerships between universities and sports betting companies. At least eight universities, including the likes of Michigan State, Louisiana State (LSU), Maryland, University of Denver and the University of Colorado, engaged in such deals. The promise? Caesars Sportsbook shelled out millions to Michigan State in exchange for “Caesarizing” East Lansing. In other words, Caesars had free reign to recreate and resemble elements of its trademark casinos around campus.

In late March of 2023, the American Gaming Association (AGA) updated its marketing code, banning sportsbooks from partnering with colleges to promote sports wagering, effectively putting an end to the MSU-Caesars deal four years before the contract expired. The decision came in hopes of limiting underage gambling and combating rises in gambling addiction. 

Despite that move, sports betting advertisements remain exceptionally effective on impressionable college students. The NCAA recently found that 63% of on-campus college students recall seeing betting ads, to which 58% of those students responded they are more likely to bet after seeing said ads. 

With more than $268 billion legally wagered on sports between 2018 and 2023, generating nearly $4 billion in tax revenue, the big players like FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Caesars rejoiced in an all-time high $2.8 billion in sportsbook revenue during the first quarter of 2023. Operators have been known to target younger audiences specifically, as their projected “lifetime value” (LTV) is higher than other cohorts, mainly because they’ll generally be alive longer! Lifelong customers are incredibly valuable, as the more someone bets, the more likely they are to lose money and increase the profits of sportsbooks. 

While many college students under the age of 21 cannot legally bet with these big players in most states where sports betting is legal, that hasn’t stopped sports betting from pervading college campuses. But how exactly are individuals under the age of 21 betting on sports?

Gambling Age Discrepancy: 18+ versus 21+

With easy access to the best sports betting apps on any type of smartphone, the allure of promising sign-up bonuses ensnare college students everywhere. And for those under the age of 21 who are pulled in by the sports betting action of their peers and the barrage of advertisements, legal and gray-area workarounds are in full force. 

Whether it's through the couple of states that allow 18+ online sports betting, legal daily fantasy sports (DFS and DFS 2.0) options, offshore unregulated sportsbooks, new-age bookies, wagering through a legal sports betting account with a relative or friend who is of age or lying about personal information with the creation of a legitimate sports betting account, college students under the age of 21 have found countless avenues to bet on sports.

States with 18+ Sports Betting Age Minimums

While the general age for legal online sports betting is typically 21+, there are a few states that allow legally betting on sports for those 18+ years old. These locations include:

  • Kentucky

  • Montana

  • New Hampshire

  • Rhode Island

  • Washington D.C.

  • Wyoming

It’s worth noting that some sportsbooks align their age minimums with state regulations (such as those with 18+ age restrictions), but others maintain a uniform 21+ age approach across all states in which they offer their sports betting products. 

DFS 2.0 - “Hybrid” Fantasy Meets Sports Betting

A legal loophole that resulted in countless young college students wagering money on sporting events before the age of 21 – typically on player props – is through a new iteration of DFS. Daily Fantasy Sports is legal in 45 states (almost all except Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Washington) and requires users to be just 18 years old. 

Some new DFS platforms allow college students to pick a sport, enter online contests of varying entry costs, and craft “lineups” composed of real-life athletes. Success is determined by the statistical performance of your team relative to pre-set lines. Many of these hybrid DFS-meets-prop-betting products are nearly indistinguishable from a parlay of player props in sports betting, as they generally involve choosing multiple players and predicting if their statistical outputs will be over or under (or “more” or “less”) the lines set by the operator. This “player vs. house” type of game is very different from traditional player vs. player (peer-to-peer) games. However, because these plays include multiple players, they are framed as “lineups” to mimic legal 18+ fantasy products. 

In the past year, some states — including Arkansas, Florida and New York – have cracked down on fantasy operators offering these game “player vs. house” formats, with cease-and-desist notifications sent that resulted in operators exiting the markets or changing game formats to be solely peer-to-peer in nature.

Casino Age Restrictions

For general gambling such as casino games (slots and table games), college students under the age of 21 can wager money in select states where those age restrictions are 18+. Casinos are active in 48 states (all except Kentucky and Tennessee). In the eight states listed here, individuals only have to be 18 years old to legally gamble at a casino.

  • Georgia (gambling is only legal on cruise ships)

  • Idaho

  • Minnesota

  • Montana

  • Oklahoma 

  • South Dakota

  • South Carolina (gambling is legal only on cruise ships)

  • Washington

States With Flexible Laws

  • California has set its legal gambling age at 18 to 21 depending on the casino regulations

  • Michigan has set its legal gambling age at 18 to 21 depending on the casino regulations

Lottery Age Rules

Lottery age restrictions also vary by state. In addition to casinos, people under the age of 21 can purchase lottery tickets in a majority of states. Five states do not sell lottery tickets: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah. In 40 states, you can buy scratch-offs, play Powerball and Mega Millions, or participate in other lottery games at age 18. Nebraska’s minimum age for lottery games is 19. You must be 21 or older in Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana and Mississippi to play lottery games.

Dangers of College Students Gambling

According to the NCAA, 58% of 18-to 22-year-olds have engaged in at least one sports wagering activity in the last year and nearly 70% of students living on campus are regular bettors – a figure congruent to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) findings that 75% of college students report having gambled in general within the past year. 

“So, what’s the big deal?” you might ask. Well, the stats above include bettors who are 18-20 years old and some 21+ who are not located in legal betting states, meaning a notable portion of college students are regularly engaged in gambling activities. 

More problematic, compared to the nationally estimated 2-3% of U.S. adults with a gambling problem, the NCPG estimates that nearly 6% of college students are problem gamblers. Another study, published in the Journal of Gambling Studies, found that 10% of college students are problem gamblers. 

What factors put college students at risk of becoming problem gamblers?

According to the NCPG, unmarried young adult males with a perceived sense of sports betting knowledge and skill and who spend time with like-minded peers, occasionally or often engaging in alcohol and drug use, are most at risk to become problem gamblers. 

These factors already fit the bill of a large pool of college students around the country, but when you add in factors such as school, identity and relationship-related stressors often experienced by individuals in the 18-22 age range, you have a recipe for dangerous gambling habits. 

Until about 25 years old, the brain is still in development, and while substance use inhibits that development, a lack of impulse control is already more likely for individuals in that age range. With an activity such as sports betting, which stimulates the brain’s reward center, underdeveloped, college-aged brains are more susceptible to addiction in the face of continuous financial losses.    

College Sports Betting: Notable News & Scandals

  • March 29, 2023: University of Colorado and PointsBet end partnership three years early (Similar to MSU-Caesars deal) after AGA revises code to ban university-sportsbook deals.

  • May 4, 2023: Alabama baseball fires head coach Brad Bohannon after he was linked to suspicious bets and found to have shared inside information with known bettors.

  • May 8, 2023: Iowa and Iowa State gambling investigation leads to over 40 college athletes between the University of Iowa and Iowa State University caught illegally gambling on games that included their own. Iowa State quarterback Hunter Dekkers placed bets before turning 21, and 26 bets were placed on Iowa State-related games (KCCI). Meanwhile, Iowa kicker Aaron Blom placed wagers on a DraftKings account in his mother’s name (Denver Post).

  • March 8, 2024: Temple basketball reviews reports of unusual gambling activity, prompting Caesars Sportsbook and FanDuel, among other sportsbooks, to halt betting on the men’s basketball team.

Gambling Addiction Treatment and Resources for College Students

With three out of every four college students having engaged in gambling activities in some capacity in the last year, and an estimated 6-10% constituting a problem gambler, the need for impactful gambling addiction treatment facilities and resources has never been more crucial for college students. 

Thankfully, there are specialized resources and care options. In particular, Birches Health offers treatment for individuals in need from the comfort of home. Birches’ team of clinicians have decades of experience, and there are $0 out-of-pocket costs for many patients. 

If you believe you or someone you know could possibly benefit from the Birches Health offerings, please feel free to call (833) 483-3838 or email hello@bircheshealth.com.

Sources:

CNN

The New York Times

Associated Press

NCAA

World Population Review

NCPG

Journal of Gambling Studies

CBS News

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