Peggy Brown calls it a “silent killer.”
“What I know is that when it gets to problematic behavior, it’ll affect every aspect of [the gambler’s] life, and can lead to isolation, depression, anxiety and possible suicide,” says Brown, president of the Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado. The organization works to increase awareness, advocate for treatment, and promote research and education for individuals and communities impacted by problem gambling.
According to the University of Villanova, gambling disorder has the highest suicide rate out of any addiction.
The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) estimates 2 million U.S. adults have “severe” gambling problems in a given year, with another 4 to 6 million considered to have moderate problems.
After legalization in 2019, Colorado is one of more than 35 states to pass sports betting bills. The state collected $12.4 million in taxes from sports betting in 2022, according to the Division of Gaming.
In 2020, the University of Colorado made a $1.6 million deal with the sports betting company PointsBet that allowed the company to advertise its products on campus and at sporting events through 2026. The original deal included a $30 referral bonus to the university when anyone signed up on the PointsBet site using a CU promo code. The referral bonus stopped in January 2023.
The partnership between CU and PointsBet was the first high-profile sports gambling deal in major college athletics, but a New York Times investigation found that at least eight universities have partnered with online sports betting companies.
But the deal between CU and PointsBet abruptly ended on March 27.
CU declined to comment further.
Brown says she was “thrilled” when she heard the news.
“Sanctioned betting [has] no place on a collegiate campus,” she says.
ROLLING THE DICE
One study published in The Recovery Village found that one in 20 college students meet the criteria for compulsive gambling and that its rate among college students is more than double the rate of the overall adult population.
“Something that starts out so recreational for fun and excitement, all of a sudden becomes a compulsion,” says Brown. “And to maintain that level [of excitement], the gambler has to increase the frequency and amount of the bet to get the same dopamine rush.”
The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland reported Keith Whyte, the executive director of NCPG, said students’ vulnerability to sports betting is linked to various factors, including the underdevelopment of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which controls impulsive behavior and isn’t fully developed until age 25.
When Boulder Weekly inquired about how CU tracks if signs of problem gambling were developing in students, Assistant Director of Communications Andrew Sorensen pointed toward one resource: the American College Health Association’s (ACHA) National College Health Assessment III.
The 103-page survey, which consisted of nearly 70,000 nation-wide college student respondents, aims to collect data about “student habits and behaviors on the most prevalent health topics.”
The survey asked four questions about gambling disorders — including if the respondent has been diagnosed with a disorder, or talked to a healthcare professional about it — each with “yes/no” responses.
Less than 1% of respondents reported ever being diagnosed with a gambling disorder, according to ACHA’s Fall 2022 undergraduate student reference group executive summary. Sorensen says CU had 954 respondents to the survey, with no students indicating they had received a gambling disorder diagnosis.
National studies contradict those survey results.
For example, Yale Medicine says 2% to 7% of youths develop a gambling disorder, compared with about 1% of adults. It also writes that many gambling disorders begin in adolescence, and college students gamble at higher rates than the general population.
NCPG states that about 67% of college students bet on sports and that students who gamble have higher rates of binge drinking, marijuana use, cigarette use, illicit drug use and unsafe sex after drinking.
In addition, the Mayo Clinic says compulsive gambling can be difficult to treat because “most people have a hard time admitting they have a problem. Yet a major part of treatment is working on acknowledging that you’re a compulsive gambler.”
Rather than connecting Boulder Weekly with individuals for further questions on the topic as requested, Sorensen either did not answer specific questions, or answered with boilerplate responses from the university.
For example, the university did not specify how much money was being diverted specifically to gambling addiction resources, or if there was any programming on campus to inform students about problem gambling.
When asked if there was a gambling therapist on campus, the university wrote, “CU Boulder takes issues of addiction seriously and provides support for any CU Boulder community member seeking recovery through the Collegiate Recovery Center.”
Campus resources on the recovery center’s “support resources” page include student- and staff-led substance use workshops, peer wellness coaching, counseling and psychiatric services and a link to an external problem gambling support organization.
Gambling is prohibited in CU Boulder residence halls, and NCAA rules prohibit athletics staff and student athletes from participating in sports betting.
On March 28, the American Gaming Association (AGA) announced updates to its responsible marketing code for sports wagering, which “sets the industry standard for responsibility in marketing and advertising of sports betting.”
Changes to the code include “enhancing protections for college-aged audiences” by prohibiting future partnerships between sports betting companies and universities, “but do not retroactively affect the ones that are in existence,” says Casey Clark, senior vice president of AGA.
When asked if he was concerned about sports betting on college campuses moving forward, Clark said, “we commit hundreds of millions of dollars a year to responsible gaming measures and activities and are fully committed to ensuring that this continues to be entertainment for adults, and not to anybody else.”
Clark also says Americans have bet on sports as long as there have been sports to bet on — and that the legal sports-betting industry is providing regulation and stability to the market by establishing consumer protections and funding problem gambling resources.
Steve Hurlbert, director of communications at CU Boulder, wrote in an email that breaking off from PointsBet was unrelated to the AGA’s updates.
Although CU ended its deal with PointsBet, the University of Denver remains in partnership with sports betting company SuperBook Sports. According to DU, the agreement includes “branding, media hospitality and social media assets with a focus on responsible gaming and education for student-athletes.”