This fall, California has two hotly contested sports-betting initiatives on the ballot. Both propositions ban betting on high school sports, but only Proposition 26 prohibits wagering on in-state college teams. Why does Prop 26 ban in-state college sports betting?
Both Prop 26 and Proposition 27 propose constitutional amendments to legalize California sports betting. While the two measures are exclusive of one another, those behind the competing initiatives have already spent more than $422 million on their campaigns.
Prop 26 would allow only in-person sports betting at California tribal casinos and California horse racing venues. It would also permit tribes to add new games such as roulette and craps at their facilities. The initiative also adds a new way to enforce certain state gambling laws.
Reasons Prop 26 bans gambling on college sports
What the proposition does not permit are bets on high school games and sporting events in which California college teams participate.
First off, there’s a general aversion to gambling, especially when it’s done by young people. Another often cited reason to ban betting on college sports is the negative consequences it can have on students. And not just students whose behavior is classified as excessive or pathological.
Proponents of the ban also argue that there’s a justifiable concern for games to be rigged. The games are played by young, impressionable athletes who don’t get paid by their universities.
Another interesting argument is that some athletes could be sharing a room with someone who is betting on or against them. Critics also argue that players could be vulnerable to threatening messages on social media from gamblers.
NCAA bans betting by college athletes
The NCAA sees it the same way. In fact, its regulations forbid any form of sports wagering for money.
“To protect the integrity of college athletics contests, NCAA regulations prohibit student-athletes from betting money on any sports event (college, professional or otherwise) in which the NCAA conducts collegiate championships. Violations of this regulation can result in student-athletes losing his or her athletics eligibility, which has clear negative repercussions for the individual and his or her team.”
It’s no secret that college students have been known to engage in risky behavior. That includes binge drinking, illicit drug use and gambling. Research, though, indicates they’re doing less of the latter.
An NCAA study comparing the trends in gambling behavior among college student-athletes, in the years 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016, shows that gambling activities have generally decreased over the 12-year span.
With sports betting taking off across the country, it will be interesting to see if the trend continues.
Other states averse to betting on college sports
On Aug. 1, the Massachusetts General Court agreed to permit licensed sportsbooks in the state to offer wagering on professional and amateur sports. Governor Charlie Baker, a strong advocate of sports betting, signed the bill into law 10 days later, setting the stage for what has become a closely watched regulatory process.
For fans of Massachusetts college sports, there was little to celebrate. The ruling prohibited betting on college teams in the state. According to the Sports Wagering Act, betting on in-state college games unlawful unless the teams are taking part in a “collegiate tournament.”
There is, however, a small silver lining. In an apparent effort to bridge the gap, wagering on out-of-state collegiate teams will be OK, said House Speaker Robert Mariano.
MA House and Senate on opposing sides of issue
The main bone of contention in negotiations on the legislation was the issue of college sports betting. While the House was mostly in favor, the Senate remained staunchly against it.
Mariano thinks it’s absurd that college sports betting isn’t a part of the law. He believes it would generate more revenue than the popular professional sports teams in the state, such as the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Celtics.
In effect, a strong lobby of seven universities managed to sway the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Representatives of the schools cited, “unnecessary and unacceptable risk to student-athletes, their campus peers, and the integrity and culture of college and universities in the Commonwealth.”
Similar to Massachusetts, in The Old Dominion, one can bet on any college event, provided no Virginia-based programs are taking part.
That still leaves plenty of action on the table, particularly betting on neighbors like the Maryland Terrapins, Georgetown Hoyas and West Virginia Mountaineers.
Furthermore, in-game betting and player prop bets are not legal at state sportsbooks.
This hits particularly hard considering Virginia doesn’t have any professional sports teams. Its sports culture hinges on college teams.
New York and New Jersey
Both The Empire State and The Garden State have similar prohibitions on in-state college sports betting. The bans are there to effectively protect athletes from outside influences.
It’s worth noting that nine of the 11 institutions in the Big East are private, Catholic schools where gambling is still renounced.
Katie Willet, Big East senior associate commissioner, made her position unequivocally clear on the issue.
“It doesn’t make sense. If it’s legal, it’s legal. Bet where you want to bet. That’s my opinion. That’s not a statement from the Big East.”
When Illinois legislators were hammering out the legalization of sports wagering, a team of athletics directors from around the state raised alarm.
They were concerned that allowing gambling on in-state colleges and universities could encourage point shaving, leaks of sensitive information and other forms of corruption among their unpaid players. They wrote their concerns in a letter to Gov. JB Pritzker in 2019 before legalization.
“Gambling on college sports places student-athletes squarely in harm’s way due to individuals seeking to alter the outcome of games or looking to obtain inside information for the purposes of wagering.”
Illinois law now allows in-person betting on in-state college teams. This stipulation has dampened enthusiasm for operators and consumers alike.