Progress in Combating Gambling

NCAA study finds declining numbers of college players with signs of problem wagering, though Internet gaming and casual sports betting grow.
November 16, 2009

The National Collegiate Athletic Association's intensified efforts to educate college athletes about the dangers of gambling appear to have reduced the prevalence of heavy wagering, a survey by the association shows.

But a near doubling of online gambling suggests a burgeoning problem, association officials acknowledged, and casual betting on sports is also on the rise.

The NCAA study compares the 2008 responses of about 20,000 college athletes with those of a group of NCAA athletes from 2004, whose troubling outcomes prompted the association to appoint a task force that urged more extensive anti-gambling education by colleges and the NCAA itself.

The 2005 report acknowledged that gambling was "very much a part of the culture" on many campuses. But it expressed particular concern about the dangers when athletes in high-profile sports like Division I football and men's basketball gamble, because of the risk that they fall into debt and wind up susceptible to approaches from those seeking to influence the outcomes of their games, leaving to point shaving and other scandals that undermine the games' legitimacy.

The updated survey is designed to gauge the extent to which the education efforts, along with tougher enforcement of association rules, had changed athletes' attitudes and behavior.

NCAA officials told The NCAA News, an association publication, that they found much in the survey heartening. Smaller proportions of male and female athletes alike reported engaging in most types of "wagering behaviors," with the sharpest declines coming in those reporting "heavy" activity of at least once a week.

Betting behaviors among female athletes -- which were already significantly less common than for men in 2004 -- fell across the board by 2008.

But the proportion of athletes who might be deemed to be problem gamblers actually edged up, as seen in the table below:

Proportion of Athletes and Type of Gambler

  2004 2008
Male athletes
Non-gambler 29.3% 33.8%
Social gambler 64.0 60.8
At-risk gambler 4.6 2.5
Probable pathological gambler 2.1 2.9
Female athletes
Non-gambler 51.1% 61.5%
Social gambler 48.1 37.6
At-risk gambler 0.7 0.3
Probable pathological gambler 0.1 0.6

Source: NCAA

While the survey reported declines among men and women in most types of wagering -- card playing, betting on horses, playing the stock market -- two areas showed meaningful increases: Male athletes were nearly twice as likely in 2008 as in 2004 to play casino games on the Internet for money, and more likely to have bet on sports at least once in the last year. The proportion of male athletes who said they bet on sports at least once a week, though, had fallen to 2.7 percent, from 4.7 percent in 2004.

Digging more deeply into the data on sports betting, the NCAA survey found that Division I men's basketball players were less likely to bet on sports at least once a month in 2008 than in 2004 (4.5 percent vs. 6.1 percent), but that athletes in several others sports, including baseball and football but especially golf, were more likely.

"In the 2008 study, men’s golfers also stand out as the most pervasive gamblers across almost every type of gambling behavior studied," the NCAA survey found.

Athletes were as likely to bet on college sports as on professional sports, and of the male athletes who reported betting on sports at least once a month, about 15 percent said they bet with a bookie, and 40 percent said they bet on the Internet.

Betting on sports of any kind is against NCAA rules.

The NCAA survey found mixed results about the prospects of athletes in high-profile sports potentially being influenced to engage in troubling behavior related to gambling, although the association acknowledged that the data for this aspect of the survey were probably too incomplete to be statistically significant.

But association officials said the data indicated that "Division I men’s basketball and football were being contacted more frequently in 2008 by outside sources seeking inside information" about their games or teams, but that the athletes "generally reported less sharing of such information with outside sources in 2008 vs. 2004... Concurrently, Division I men’s basketball and football players taken in aggregate reported being asked to influence contest outcomes less often in 2008 than 2004."

To reinforce the idea that men were the drivers of campus gambling, male athletes reported that their teammates or other athletes were their most common gambling partners. Female athletes, meanwhile, said they were most likely to gamble with their significant others or family members.


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