Fantasy sports gambling becomes major issue

Experts notice a rise in fantasy sports gambling among college students.

Raj Chaduvula

Commercials for fantasy sports gaming sites DraftKings and FanDuel try to entice fans of live sports with the tantalizing possibility of making money by playing in a league of their own online.
 
 
But as the popularity of the lucrative $2 billion fantasy sports industry has grown, so have rates of gambling addiction, according to industry experts — and college students are not immune.
 
 
Gambling, like drugs or alcohol, can be addictive, Susan Campion, a University of Minnesota Medical Center problem gambling counselor said.
 
 
While some students can gamble responsibly, she said, others can’t. Campion said she has seen students literally gamble away their student loans. 
 
 
Because college campuses tend to provide little information about gambling, students don’t know how to cope, she said.
 
 
Many fantasy sites claim that gamblers can win big money, she said, but big winners usually do so by playing fulltime, making spreadsheets and mathematical calculations that weigh risk and reward. 
 
 
“Students cannot play full time because they are students,” Campion said. “They have classes and homework and jobs.” 
 
 
A 2014 East Carolina University study found that college students who play fantasy sports were more likely to have gambling-related problems. About four in 10 of the study’s respondents, who reported participating in fantasy sports, said they played for money.
 
 
The East Carolina study also found that professional football was by far the most popular choice of fantasy sport and that men were far more likely to take part in online leagues. 
 
 
Ryan Martin, lead researcher and associate professor at East Carolina University, said fantasy leagues enable risky betting habits by not portraying themselves as gambling outlets. 
 
 
The sites don’t do so in order to avoid being legally bound to rules and regulations of gambling organizations, said Christine Reilly, senior research director at the National Center for Responsible Gaming. 
 
 
Safety mechanisms — such as notifications or alerts when too much money is being lost or when someone is spending too much time on the site — could help those who are addicted to gambling, she said. 
 
 
Rep. Joe Atkins, D-Inver Grove Heights, introduced a bill to the Minnesota house this January to clarify whether fantasy sports gaming should be classified as gambling.
 
 
If passed, the bill would legalize fantasy betting but not define it as gambling, said Atkins.
 
 
It also proposes oversight for fantasy gaming sites to ensure that gamers get paid fairly, he said. Under the proposed law, the online leagues would be subject to background checks, annual independent inspections and would exclude employees and athletes from participating, Atkins said. 
 
 
The bill will be heard by the house in March.
 
 
Though legislation might help clarify the language surrounding fantasy betting, it may not help students realize its potential pitfalls.
 
 
“My concern is that college students need to understand that this is an addiction,” Campion said.