College Sports Gambling: Fun or Fraud?

5 March, 1999

Over the last several years gambling has invaded college campuses nationwide. The most prevalent form of gambling, sports betting, continues to dig deep into the pockets of highly vulnerable college students. This illegal activity tends to undermine sports and leads to scandal and even punishment by law, if the culprits can be caught.
Sports betting is considered the most popular form of gambling in the United States (Worsnop 248). On college campuses, where money is low and much desired, students will sometimes go to great lengths to bulk up their wallets. Gambling, which on the surface seems to be quick and easy money, is a poor solution that many college students are making. But, as T. Layden, a writer for Sports Illustrated points out, "There is hurt on every level of the gambling process."
One level that frequently pops up in NCAA scandals is the student-athlete. These student athletes who offer advice, fix games through point-shaving, or place wagers on games jeopardize their school's reputation, their eligibility, or even their career (Layden 48). College athletes are always in need of money, which gamblers can offer in exchange to influence a game (Layden 53). As one Arizona State basketball star witnessed first hand, the future is more promising than the quick money involved with sports betting.
Hedake Smith's dreams were shattered when due to rumors of his involvement in a point-shaving scandal at Arizona State the NBA passed him up in the 1994 draft. These rumors became reality when he later confessed to being part of the biggest point-shaving scandal in college sports history (Smith 92). Smith, who was expected to go in the first two rounds, fell victim to a student bookmaker who made it seem like fixing games was no big deal. This bookie told Smith that he didn't have to lose any games, he just had to make sure they didn't cover the point spread, or win by too many points. Smith later said, "He made it sound simple. He never used the term point-shaving, never made it seem like it was dangerous."
Over the course of the season, Smith fixed games by easing his guard on defense. He still scored his 30 points per game and just didn't play as hard on defense. Due to the outrageous amount of money wagered on one game, the point spread changed 42 times. This alerted Vegas oddsmakers that something was suspicious and eventually the FBI caught wind of it. Soon, Smith and his bookie were serving time in federal prison for conspiracy to commit sports bribery (Smith 99).
Unfortunately, this wasn't the last time scandal had shocked the sports world. In 1995, four Northwestern University football players and two basketball players were sentenced to prison for their point-shaving schemes. Again, a student bookie was at the center of the scandal (Cook 34).
These student bookies, another level of the college sports gambling problem, often have rings of illegal bookmaking by students who place bets on a variety sporting events (Knapp 289). Bookmakers can make a decent living due to the large interest of student clientele, who are always in need of money. In the Arizona State incident, the student bookmaking operation was bringing in over $120,000 a month (Layden 53).
This big money is what attracts the other level of college sports gambling, the student bettor. College students are more vulnerable than most groups due to the accessibility of cash and social environment full of peer pressure (Layden 53). According to a study by Steven Oster and Terry Knapp, which was published in the June 1998 edition of College Student Journal, nearly 6% of college students are pathological gamblers. Once this betting begins it is difficult to stop, whether ahead or behind.
In some cases the monetary losses can lead to desperation. This desperation, in turn, can cause students to do something more drastic than place a simple bet. In 1992 Keith Tubin, a student at the University of Nevada, stole a total of $89,000 from several Las Vegas banks to pay gambling debts. In 1993, an honor student at the University of Texas stole over $12,000 for the sole purpose of paying gambling debts (Layden 53).
Although sports gambling is a recognized problem, it will continue to thrive on college campuses.