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College and Gambling

Disclaimer: This story contains anonymous sources. USF Encounter only uses anonymous sources when it feels it is necessary to protect the identity, safety or livelihood of a source.


A phone with the loading screen to FanDuel Sportsbook on it. The phone is sitting on a pile of cards and poker chips.
FanDuel spent $135 million on advertising in 2022, by far the most out of any sportsbook. Photo: Harlie Mast

Mark, a USF student, opens his phone to show me the collection of betting apps he has accumulated over the past few years. He has everything from FanDuel and DraftKings to Underdog and PrizePicks.

Mark’s real name has been changed to protect his identity because he cannot legally use some of the apps on his phone.

Mark is under the age of 21, the legal age to wager on sports in Illinois, but that hasn’t stopped him from finding other ways to getting on the action.

“It’s an interesting rush,” Mark said. “I’m obviously not putting my life savings on the line, but even 50 cents to win like five bucks gives me a rush.” 

Some gambling apps, such as Underdog and PrizePicks, are considered to be “daily fantasy apps,” and therefore do not have to play by the same rules as the big sportsbooks such as BetMGM, FanDuel and DraftKings

PrizePicks allows users to select at least two athletes’ statistics to wager on. For example, Andre Drummond over (grabbing more than) 11.5 rebounds and DeMar DeRozan over (scoring more than) 24.5 points would be a legitimate “lineup” on the app. To play, you have to wager on your lineup to meet the statistics you have selected for them.

Daily fantasy apps have become a work around for users, some who were as young as 18 years old when they started, to lay down multiple leg parlays (a type of bet that combines multiple bets into one single bet, thus increasing the payout if every “leg,” or bet, hits). 

Something that was once reserved for sportsbooks in Las Vegas has now become accessible to high school seniors, and it is as simple as unlocking their phone and opening an app. 

Mark agrees that the upswing in apps available to teens is a bit concerning.

“Personally, I think online gambling has caused a lot of problems for people,” Mark said. “It’s just a push of a button and that 1,000 dollars in the bank account or that 10,000 dollars in that account was just deposited into the site.” 

Mark’s not wrong. The ability for anyone of any age to deposit any amount of money from their bank account into the app of the sportsbook of their choice from the comfort of their own couch is concerning. Users, especially those in college, will seek out the dopamine (the pleasure endorphin) of bigger and bigger wins. It’s the first step on a slippery slope. 

“Whenever you’re gambling, you want to win money,” Mark said. “[I do it] not just to win money, but for that feeling of winning something.”

A survey from the NCAA found that of 3,527 respondents, 58% have participated in at least one sport betting activity. Of that population, nearly 10% are betting “multiple times a week,” with 4% betting daily. 

If you ask Mark, he doesn’t have a problem. The most money he’s ever put on a bet was $62.50. 

He lost that bet. 

“I don’t think I have a gambling problem,” Mark said. “I play cards and blackjack for fun with people I know and friends. Sometimes we put money on the line (like 20 dollars) and it’s just a fun game that we can play.”

One of ten college students is a pathological gambler according to Time magazine and the University of Buffalo, and according to the NCAA survey, “71% of bettors report a highest daily loss of between one dollar and $100.”

Mark’s preferred method of play isn’t even sports betting: it’s casino games. He enjoys poker, blackjack and other card games. 

Despite that, he knows how dangerous the casino can be, especially those money-eating slot machines. 

“I think playing slots constantly is a problem,” Mark said. “Slots are the worst way to put your money down to win money.”

Sportsbooks have been relentless in their quest for clientele. According to Time and iSpot.TV, sportsbooks spent nearly 345 million dollars in television advertising in 2022. FanDuel led the way, spending 135 million dollars on its own. 

You cannot turn on a sporting event now without comedian Kevin Hart or former professional golfer turned influencer Paige Spiranac pushing FanDuel or PointsBet respectively. Time found that sportsbooks are even running their ads during reruns of old sitcoms like Friends.

Mark is incredibly self aware about his situation. He’s so self aware that he has taken some time off recently from gambling on sports. He says he’s going to wait until he turns 21 to reload his accounts with fresh funds. His last bet was two months ago.

He lost that bet. 

If you or a loved one struggle with gambling, call 1-800-GAMBLERor text ILGAMB to 8332234. 

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