Among students, sports betting runs rampant

May 9, 2024, 8:07 a.m. | By Sudhish Swain | 1 month ago

While the legal age for sports betting is 21 in Maryland, many 18-year-old seniors travel to D.C. to bypass geofencing legislation

It’s nearly impossible to watch a professional sports game without seeing at least one sports betting advertisement. What’s worse is how enticing these advertisements are: offering bonus bets if your first bet is wrong, or matching your first bet up to a certain cash amount. 

This only began in May 2021 when former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed House Bill 940 into law, legalizing bets on professional sporting events. Since then, Marylanders have spent $5.1 billion on sports bets. But in a state where the legal age to gamble is 21, how do so many high school students get involved in this lucrative industry? 

According to Heather Eshleman, prevention manager at the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling (The Center), some parents help their underage children set up an account on online sportsbooks where kids can bet in their name. “The kids that I talk to say either their parents get them an account because the parents don't see it as risky … or they actually sneak onto their parent's account and just use it,” Eshleman says. The Center is in charge of funding for problem gambling treatment and prevention programs. Problem gambling is defined as the uncontrollable urge to gamble despite negative consequences in a person's life.

Furthermore, D.C. has set their legal gambling ages, for both sports wagering and fantasy sports betting, to a mere 18. There’s nothing illegal about high schoolers traveling across state borders to place a sports bet somewhere where it’s legal—a loophole that Blair students like senior Leo Rossoto have begun to use.

Rossoto doesn’t place bets on the outcome of a game, or string together multiple bets into complicated parlays. Instead, he uses an app called PrizePicks to play daily fantasy sports (DFS) and only bets on individual player performances. DFS was legal in Maryland until 2021 when the new legislation that legalized sports betting made DFS illegal.

“Every once in a while, we take the Metro three stops into DC just to place our bets, and then come back,” Rossoto says.

Betting by the youth, and on the youth

According to a study conducted by SUNY Buffalo, an estimated 750,000 of America's youth—between the ages of 14 and 21—are problem gamblers, meaning that they gamble more than intended or steal money to support gambling. 

Critically, high school youth are at the biggest risk of falling victim to the addictive nature of winning. According to Eshleman, “the younger that you start gambling, the more likely you are to have a problem with it later in life… Youth are at greater risk of addiction because their brains are still developing. It’s similar to substance misuse.” 

Since sports betting was legalized, the center has seen a significant increase in the number of calls from parents concerned about their children’s addictive gambling behaviors. “We’ve seen an increase in calls for help. It probably almost doubled since mobile sports betting came, and we’re seeing a huge amount of calls about younger people,” Eshleman says. Furthermore, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) has highlighted the detrimental impact of betting on college athletes, citing its potential to "undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardize the well-being of student-athletes." NCAA President Charlie Baker announced on March 27 a proposal for a national ban on proposition (prop) betting in college sports. Prop betting involves placing wagers on individual players or specific events within a game or match that are not directly tied to the game's outcome. The state of Maryland banned prop betting on college athletes on March 1, 2024, leaving only four jurisdictions, including Washington D.C., that currently permit prop betting on college sports.

Tracking your bets

For Rossoto and his friends, tracking their bets lets them see whether they’re losing or earning money from their bets. “We track our bets so we can see the kind of results in combination over the years. We're absolutely up,” Rossoto says.

A Blair student looking at the sports betting odds for the day's games Photo courtesy of Gabe Marra-Perrault.

Furthermore, to continue making a profit and stay on top of how much money they’re earning/losing, Rossoto and his friends try to bet exclusively on sports where they do well. “We also track how good we are at each sport and we avoid sports that we're doing worse at. I can see how if you weren't looking at your gambling usage as a whole you can become not very aware of your habits, which is something we actively tried to do,” he says.

Where’s the money going?

The 15% tax that the state imposes on sportsbook proceeds goes to Maryland's Future Fund, which supports public education programs. But the Problem Gambling Fund only receives funding from a flat fee which the six Maryland physical casinos pay on each slot machine and table game they operate. 97% of Maryland’s sports betting revenue comes from mobile platforms, not physical casinos which means the state has collected over $56 million in taxes, and only given $2.8 million to the Maryland Problem Gambling Fund.

The Center is severely underfunded, and John Martin, Directory of the Maryland State Lottery & Gaming Control Agency, states that this funding disparity is an issue that the current session is looking to resolve. “I would say [the state] is trying to make good on an oversight that they had when they established the sports wagering statute back in 2021. There was no provision in that for problem gambling funding. This would attach 1% of the revenue from sports wagering to a problem gambling fund,” Martin says.

Such legislation must be passed to ensure that the Center has the necessary resources to treat problem gambling. The Center says they have seen a large uptick in the volume of calls since 2021, but a lack of resources to handle them. “We're seeing a huge amount of calls about 18 to 24-year-olds. It could be parents calling in because their child's at college and they have used their tuition money or whatever money they've been given to gamble,” Eshleman says. 

Sometimes, even the underage gamblers are able to recognize they have a problem and try to get help. “We definitely see even the young people calling in themselves. It's been challenging for us because we're really short-staffed as far as addressing and increasing calls,” Eshleman says.

Between the myriad of sports-betting advertisements, missing funding for the Problem Gambling Fund and Center for Problem Gambling, and lack of education on the potential dangers of underage gambling, the state of Maryland must redouble its efforts to prioritize the safety and well-being of its residents, and especially its students. The harmful advertising methods must be regulated, the funding must be properly distributed, and schools throughout the state should be mandated to teach the potential consequences of sports gambling in health classes. 

Last updated: May 12, 2024, 4:53 p.m.

Sudhish Swain. Hi! I'm Sudhish (he/him) and I'm one of the sports editors as well as a videographer. I often record videos at games, write beats, post recaps/galleries/videos on our social medias, and more! Besides SCO, I love running, listening to music, and learning new languages! More »

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