Is America in the Middle of a College Student Gambling Addiction Crisis?

Recent research from the University of Buffalo shows that one out of 10 college students is a pathological gambler. This number (10%) is far higher than the 2-5% of the U.S. general population that is reported to have a gambling problem. If this reigns true and persists without intervention, these students will carry their burden into adulthood and eventually recalculate the prevalence of problem gambling amongst America’s general population. Feel free to speculate on how detrimental this will be to the health and wellness of the country in the near and far future alike.

Student gambling addiction is a major problem that is not to be chalked up to “college hijinks” and brushed-off with fraternity pranks and common forms of experimentation. Below is a breakdown of why it must be considered a crisis that requires corrective course of action, today.

Why College Students in America Are in Desperate Need of Education About (and Protection Against) Gambling Addiction

Co-occurring Mental and Behavioral Health Disorders of the Average Student

College students already face a number of mental and behavioral health concerns that are connected to academic workloads, other responsibilities, and social pressures. These issues are dangerous enough on their own, but also co-occur (to varying degrees) with gambling disorder which compounds the attack on student wellness. These mental and behavioral issues include the following:

  • Mental exhuastion
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders

Learn more about common mental health concerns faced by college students.

Added Vulnerability of Student Athletes

College student athletes face all of the same mental and behavioral health concerns as their fellow academic-only students. However, they also exhibit other vulnerabilities to gambling disorder. Athletes generally have personality traits which can make them more vulnerable to problematic gambling. These include the following:

  • High levels of energy and commitment
  • Motivated by extrinsic rewards
  • Unreasonable expectations of winning despite the odds
  • Competitive spirit – they don’t like defeat
  • Distorted optimism
  • Quest for perfectionism
  • Prepared to make sacrifices 
  • Often intelligent with high IQ levels. 

There are also cultural influences in sporting environments that have normalized gambling amidst a country that is already making it mainstream.

If the above isn’t enough to cause alarm, please note that college student athletes are facing another risk associated with sports betting. Threats of violence and online harassment against student athletes from disgruntled sports bettors (some of which are gambling addicts) is occurring at unprecedented levels since the legalization of sports betting in 2018. The threat has become so serious that the FBI has gotten involved. The need for mental health support to help student athletes navigate the troubles surrounding problem gambling has never been greater.

Greater Exposure to Triggers

College campuses and adjacent commercial grounds are hotbeds of gambling triggers. Vulnerable students who simply want to cheer on their NCAA conference during college football and basketball seasons are inundated with promotional messages to sign-up and place wagers on their favorite teams. For some, these promotional messages are found on-campus, while others are exposed to triggers within the bars and watering holes located within a stone’s throw from campus gates. And those who gather to watch games in campus halls, dorm rooms, frat houses, or in the basements of their parents’ homes are slapped in the face by incessant sports betting and gambling ads on TV.

Proliferation of Mobile Sports Betting

Digital transformation of the sports betting industry has been especially problematic for the student demographic:

“More recent statistics about the prevalence of problem gambling among you people since the advent of mobile sports betting are unavailable, in part because the wave of online sports betting has crashed onto colleges so suddenly. While college students have always gambled, whether playing poker or betting on sports with a bookie, the betting apps are finding unusual traction on campuses.”

TIME Magazine

A Sports Betting Activities Survey commissioned by the NCAA has found that 27.5% of students have placed a bet on a sports using a mobile app or website, while 58% of respondents have participated in at least one sports betting activity. And don’t think that being a student in a state where sports betting remains illegal makes a difference, as the same survey found that respondent sports betting activity is about the same rate for regulated versus unregulated U.S. states. This is made possible (in-part) by unregulated sports betting sites and apps that make gambling accessible to students from their mobile devices.

Access to Funds

The quip about college students living on ramen noodles due to financial constraints may reign true for many, but this doesn’t stop some from tapping into financial resources that are intended for education – for gambling. In a recent 60-Minutes exposé on sports betting addiction, gambling addiction therapist, Harry Levant, discussed behaviors of the young American males (students included) that he treats:

“I have patients who gamble in the shower. I have patients who gamble before they get out of bed in the morning. I have patients who gamble while they are driving. There are no guardrails […] I have patients, some of whom are college students who have gambled federal student loan money. I have young patients who have gambled away inheritances.

60 Minutes

When gambling addiction takes hold, developing minds make irrational decisions with the money they have access to. Further, at the collegiate age, many students feel financially invincible, assuming that they will walk-off the convocation stage and into a high-paying career that will help them pay down any debt they may accumulate while gambling through their college years.

What Must Be Done

Early intervention education is critical to fighting against college student gambling addiction. Ideally, this should begin in high-school so that they are better prepared for exposure in college, although post-secondary institutions cannot expect this to occur. Instead, colleges and universities should integrate problem gambling awareness education into student onboarding programs. Of equal importance, is for universities to invest in support systems so that they can offer students immediate access to online counseling and therapy services for problem gambling, in addition to the common mental/behavioral health concerns they already contend with. Contact Kindbridge today to access support.

Concerned Students, Parents, and Educational Institutions

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Unregulated Sports Betting