Like many college students, EWU freshman “John Doe” surfs the Internet constantly (The name “John Doe” is used throughout this article in order to protect the student’s identity). But when Doe wakes up, or gets back to his dorm after a day in class, he doesn’t sign into MySpace or Facebook. Instead, like a growing number of college students across the country, he is logging on to check the spreads and contemplate his next bet.
Even though EWU provides a small section against gambling within dorms in the student handbook, wagering online is more popular than ever. With March Madness starting the same day as finals week, student gamblers like Doe will have a tough decision to make-spend precious hours studying sportsbook.com or preparing for exams.
“I bet on all sports. I log on every day to check the spreads and see if I like anything. But right now it’s college basketball,” Doe said. “I’ll probably throw down for March Madness, it depends on what I like, but I’ll probably bet in the hundreds.”
A study done by USA TODAY sports analyst Danny Sheridan estimated that betting on the NCAA Men’s Division I single elimination tournament through online sports books, office pools and other forms of illegal betting reached $6 billion in 2007, and bets on the Final Four alone likely generated $2.25 billion. Only wagers on the Super Bowl trump illegal betting of this magnitude.
Once Selection Sunday is over, betting Web sites and online sports books will be flooded by gamblers placing wagers on which teams will win up until March 17 and the opening game of the 2009 tournament.
Placing online wagers from his dorm, Doe said betting started for him with a trip to Las Vegas during the summer after he graduated from high school. There, he had someone place bets for him because he is under the legal age to place them himself. He explained that it was after losing $1,000 on that trip that he was hooked and convinced he could make his money back if he was smarter about betting.
“I was watching TV and there was this one guy talking on ESPN who was from sportsbook.com, so I logged on that day, and that’s how I got started,” Doe said.
According to the B.C. Centre for Social Responsibility, it is common for many college and university students to engage in risky behaviors such as binge drinking, driving while intoxicated or having unprotected sex, but only recently has gambling become a concern.
Following teams constantly and staying up with stats on ESPN, Doe feels that he is more educated in his betting now. But not all of the bets Doe makes with confidence go in his favor. Sometimes greed gets the best of you.
“Earlier in the [school] year I put down a $500 parlay bet; I won $1,300,” he said. “If I had lost that, I would have been down like $2,000. Last week I threw down $1,800 on University of Pittsburgh, the No. 1 team, beating Providence,” he said. “There’s no worse feeling in the world. I felt it in my stomach. All my winnings lost.”
Overall, Doe said he is down $1,300. The appeal of gambling, for him, comes from the thrill of predicting the outcome. “It feels amazing,” Doe said. “There’s no better feeling.” He explained that not only does he get a shot at winning large amounts of money, but if he picks the right games and right teams, he gets the feeling that he is doing well and that he is smarter than the guys picking wrong.
“I think I mostly win. At one point I figured out that I win almost 60 percent of the time,” Doe said.
According to psychologytoday.com, it is exactly this type of thinking that classifies an individual as a compulsive gambler. People who develop pathological gambling behaviors can develop a gambling habit by just occasional gambling, and stressful situations can worsen gambling problems.
Researchers at the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) analyzed policy information from student handbooks, Web sites and supplemental materials from 119 colleges in the U.S. According to their results, while all schools had a student alcohol use policy, only 26 schools (22 percent) had a gambling policy and the research suggests that gambling on college campuses is commonplace.
Although gambling does not carry the risks of physical harm that come with underage alcohol and drug abuse, the rising numbers of college students who are becoming addicted leaves unanswered the question as to whether or not it is a healthy alternative. It is something Doe would not place a bet on stopping anytime soon.