Opinion: What We Can Learn From Iowa Sports Betting Criminal Probe

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Iowa sports betting

We have a lot to learn about how sports betting can coexist with sports in the US despite being five years into widespread legalization, as the Iowa sports betting scandal highlights clearly.

This summer has been an eye-opening time for many, and it has been a ‘told you so moment’ for some. For others, it has been a moment where it has become necessary to pause and look at what we are doing.

The NFL, NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball are all made up of professional athletes. There are arguably reasons to hold professional athletes to a different standard than amateur athletes (and yes, for our purposes, we will go along with the NCAA‘s wishes that college athletics is still amateur.)

While the NFL has had a number of scandals over the past year involving players violating league gambling rules, ranging from serious (e.g. Calvin Ridley), to more likely a misunderstanding or lack of education around league policies (e.g., Jameson Williams), college sports likely pose a more meaningful concern for the regulated sports gambling industry.

Why college sports?

Unlike professional sports, where a few hundred athletes make up the entirety of the league, at the college level there are thousands of athletes, spread out across hundreds of schools, with different levels of knowledge and resources.

The college sports landscape’s interaction with sports betting has been, well, rough recently. Beginning with the high-profile New York Times profile on schools partnering with sportsbooks followed by the Alabama baseball and Iowa sports betting scandals reveal that there is an issue festering.

Contrary to what some are arguing, banning betting on college sports or geofencing college campuses is not going to stop gambling from happening.

Welcome to the party, pal

This is not a new problem. I hate to spoil the party, but college kids have been betting on sports for decades, but only now are many people learning about it because we have a regulated market. Banning betting on college sports is a boon for every offshore sportsbook serving the US (and no, the federal government is not going to shut down the offshore market).

While geofencing college campuses might seem like a great plan, again, unless there is a plan to keep athletes confined to college campuses, it is pretty easy to defeat that proposition.

No easy fixes

Gambling has always been here. College students, particularly young men, have always partaken in betting on sports. The NCAA’s own research has shown this for more than a decade. It is happening in the regulated market now and that is better than what was happening. That is not to say it is good, but it is better than the alternative.

It is time that the college sports industry has a look at itself. With the criminal complaints released from a number of the cases emerging out of Iowa, we are seeing a key trend emerge.

Does Iowa sports betting issue show the unsolvable problem?

For years, there has been a segment of the population that should not be accessing online gaming sites, but there is virtually nothing that gaming operators can do to stop it. The segment is kids who gain access through their parents, or those close to the individual, who willingly provide access.

If a parent signs up for a sports betting account in their own name with their own information and then turns the login credentials over to their child, there is little that a sports betting company can do to stop that from happening.

Indeed, in the majority of the Iowa criminal complaints that have been obtained, that appears to be what is alleged to have happened (or someone gained access through someone allowed to have an account.) This includes the case of Iowa State backup quarterback Hunter Dekkers, where according to the complaint:

Hunter Dekkers engaged in a scheme with Scott Dekkers and Jami Dekkers enabling Hunter Dekkers to disguise his identity and manipulate online/mobile transactions in order to create the appearance that sports wager transactions conducted by Hunter Dekkers were made by Jami Dekkers (biographical information omitted).

While there is a conversation circulating about the fairness of these charges and whether there is a criminalizing of NCAA regulations taking place, that is a conversation for another day. The matter at issue concerns athletes gambling, and there is not a lot that the industry can do to stop parents from letting their kids bet on sports.

Education lacking in Iowa sports betting and beyond

There is no magic solution here. If parents, or girlfriends, or strangers want to give someone who should not have access to a mobile betting account access, there is very little that an operator can do.

Effectively, the best that can be done is to educate everyone (not just the athletes, but also the parents,) about the consequences of violating NCAA (or league) rules and local laws. There certainly appears to have been a big disconnect in getting a message across about why the NCAA prohibits athletes from betting on most sports, even those they are not participants in.

Both of the recent major college betting scandals have implicated family members of college athletes. It is becoming clear that the current education is not good enough, and is too narrowly targeted. We are likely to continue to see some scandals develop until the education catches up with what is happening in the market.