“There is no more vulnerable person in the world of sports than the college athlete.”
— Mike Welch, FBI Organized Crime Unit


A friend is selling some of his important and valuable belongings. He has also asked other friends to borrow money. He is spending an inordinate amount of time at the computer and appears to be overly invested in the outcomes of sporting events. What do you do?


  1. Do you know anyone who has a gambling problem? How do you know? What are
the signs?
  2. How does it affect your relationship with this person?
  3. Who would you go to on your campus if you were concerned that a student-athlete may be gambling?
  4. Do you think it should be illegal for student-athletes to gamble as long as it’s not on their sport?
  5. How could the competitive nature of being an athlete impact gambling behavior?

Considerations and Warning Signs

In 2004 the NCAA conducted a gambling behavior survey among 21,000 student-athletes attending more than 1,000 colleges and universities nationwide, representing more than 2,000 teams.

The NCAA study confirmed:

  • Nearly 70% of male student-athletes reported gambling in the past year versus 47% among females.
  • About 35% of males and 10% of females admitted to wagering on a sporting event in the past year, which is a direct violation of NCAA bylaws regarding sports wagering.
  • 20% of males and 5% of females bet on collegiate sporting events in the past year, even though if caught they would be banned from playing at an NCAA school for the rest of their lives.
  • 22% of male athletes and 6% of female student-athletes also admitted betting on football pools or with a bookie.
  • Among Division I, II and III male student-athletes, 17% were classified as “potential problem gamblers or worse” versus 3% among their female counterparts.
  • Overall, less than 5% of males and one-half of 1% of females were categorized as problem or compulsive gamblers.
  • Problem gamblers are also more likely to be in sexual relationships, have multiple sexual partners and engage in risky sexual behavior. They are also more commonly associated with consuming increased amounts of alcohol.

Stevin Smith was an all-Pac-12 Conference point guard from 1991-1994, twice leading his team to the NCAA tournament. However, he is best known for being a central figure in one of the worst point shaving scandals to hit college basketball in the last 50 years. During his senior season, Smith and a teammate took part in a conspiracy with fellow student and bookmaker Benny Silman to fix four games during the 1993-94 season, originally saying it was because of a gambling debt. Following the end of his prison term he publicly confessed they both had agreed to fix the games and had lied to escape a longer prison term. Silman received an extended 4-year sentence because of this (compared to Smith’s 10 months).


Gambling includes betting on the following:

  • Poker or other card games
  • Dice, video or board games for money
  • Car, horse or dog racing
  • Lottery games
  • Internet games using credit cards
  • Slot or electronic poker machines
  • Stock market
  • Games of skill, like pool, golf, darts or bowling
  • School, professional or fantasy sports

Why do students gamble?

Students say they gamble because:

  • Chance to win money — think it’s a fast and easy way to get rich quick
  • Excitement of placing a bet
  • To spend time with friends
  • Distraction from everyday life
  • To fit in or be accepted
  • The rush of winning
  • To feel important

Warning Signs

  • Excessive phone bills to 900 number services
  • Obsession with point spreads
  • Unusual interest in obscure games
  • Makes excessive inquiries about the health status of athletes on a team
  • Shifting allegiances — for/against same team on different days
  • Frequently asking friends or family for loans to get bailed out of desperate financial situations — debts, unpaid bills, other financial troubles
  • Defensive when questioned about gambling behavior
  • Chases losses
  • Negative changes in attitude or behavior — irritable, restless, withdrawn, distracted
  • Missing class, dropping grades, missing other commitments
  • Separation from friends; jeopardizing significant relationships
  • Selling personal belongings to get money
  • Gambles as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a negative mood or emotional pain (guilt, anxiety, helplessness, depression, etc.)
  • Has committed illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, or theft to finance gambling
  • Reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures
  • Receives gambling paraphernalia from Internet sports betting sites or possesses gambling related items such as lottery tickets, betting sheets, casino chips, or other souvenirs from gambling locations

Note: It is sometimes very difficult to notice when someone has a gambling problem — there aren’t necessarily physical signs like in other examples.

Did you know…?

  • Gambling can be an addiction. It can turn into a VERY BIG problem VERY quickly.
  • Online gambling has increased significantly in the last 5 years.
  • College students are at greater risk than the general population. 5% report pathological gambling and over 9% report sub-clinical gambling related problems.

Action Steps

  1. Talk to the individual. Let the person know that you’re concerned.
  2. Do not give the person money and discourage others from doing so.
  3. Learn about the problem.
  4. Remind the individual:
    • Do not make bets on any teams, including your own.
    • Do not give information about your team or teammates to anyone (injuries, morale, discipline, etc.). Keep team information in the locker room.
    • Do not talk about odds or point spreads with anyone.
    • Do not associate with bookies or other gamblers.
    • Do not accept money, gifts or favors for any reason from anyone associated with sports.
  1. Encourage the person to seek professional help.