The Extent and Nature of Gambling Among College Student Athletes


o Table of Contents
o Executive Summary
o Introduction
o Review of the Literature
o Methodology
o Results
o Discussion
o Conclusion
o Bibliography
o Biography
o Acknowledgements
o Contact Information
o Purchase Copy


Key Findings

The findings in our report suggest greater involvement in sports-related gambling activities than earlier research.

The baseline data provided by Cullen and Latessa (1996), finding that 25% of student athletes in their sample gambled on college sports, appears to underreport the extent of sports-related gambling that is occurring nationwide because of their use of a more narrow definition of gambling. Most notable is our finding that over 45% of male athletes reported gambling on sports since attending college.

The increase may not necessarily signal an increase in gambling, but rather use of a survey instrument designed to more accurately measure student athlete gambling. The exact wording of Cullen and Latessa's question regarding sports gambling (which provides the benchmark for today's gambling discussions) was "While you have been in college (including other colleges you may have attended), have you gambled money on other college sporting events?" This question is limiting because it excludes wagering on professional sports. Also, it does not suggest to the respondent what gambling on college sports might include, such as sports pools, or wagering with a bookmaker or friend. Our research suggests that gambling on sports by student athletes is a prevalent activity.

There are additional findings related to the issue of sports gambling that should concern athletic administrators nationwide, including:

  • Nearly 4% of male student athletes wagered through the use of parlay cards since attending college. This is an important finding since parlay cards can be considered a "gateway" to more direct and financially risky wagering with bookmakers.
  • Over 4% of male student athletes admitting to directly betting with bookies since attending college.
  • Student athlete involvement with bookmakers poses a serious threat to the integrity of intercollegiate sports with 7.1% of male student athletes having either bet with a bookie or through the use of a parlay card. Assuming 100 football student athletes on each collegiate team, it is possible that 7 individuals per team are engaged in illegal sports wagering. Assuming 15 athletes on each men's basketball team, it is possible that 1 individual on each team is engaged in illegal sports gambling.
  • Over 5% of male student athletes have wagered on a game in which they participated, provided inside information for gambling purposes or fixed a game in which they participated. All of these activities are cause for concern because they directly compromise the integrity of intercollegiate sports. These findings suggest that it is increasingly likely that some intercollegiate contests are no being legitimately contested.
  • The involvement of female athletes in gambling activities should not be discounted. Although our findings indicate a lesser involvement by females than their male peers, this should not provide false comfort to administrators. As media focus and professional opportunities increase, the temptations and problems that face male athletes are likely to be encountered by females. With women's basketball contests receiving more attention at national sports books, and local support for collegiate teams growing, there is increased potential for problems.



There are three limitations that are worth noting in this research:

  1. it is unclear if our study under- or over-reports the prevalence of gambling among student athletes
  2. a higher response rate was desirable
  3. not all of the response items from the South Oaks Gambling Screen were included in the research

A few factors may have contributed to under-reported gambling activities. Our highest proportion of returns was among female student athletes, which was also the group that had the lowest rates of gambling. This may indicate that the most likely individuals to return the survey were those student athletes that did not gamble. Concerns about being caught in an activity that could affect a student athlete's eligibility or about "social desirability" may have further resulted in an underreporting of gambling behavior. This possibility gains additional plausibility when one considers that 80% of male student athletes engaged in some type of gambling behavior but fewer than 25% of men's basketball athletes returned the survey.

It is also possible that the data over-reported student athlete involvement. Individuals who had no gambling involvement may have discarded the survey because they believed it was not relevant to them. This seems to be a less likely scenario in light of our high female response and their lesser gambling involvement.

While a high response rate is always desirable, the researchers were satisfied with the response rate for a number of reasons. First, no tracking method was used to increase the response rate. By comparison, Cullen and Latessa (1996) had a slightly higher response rate of 32.4%, but student athletes in their sample were sent at least two (and in some cases three) questionnaires as well as follow up letters. Considering the nature and sensitivity of the topic, a conscious decision was made to trade a lower response rate for a stronger guarantee of confidentiality for the participants. Second, NCAA regulations make offering incentives to student athletes to take the survey impermissible. Third, the nature of the topic may have caused some individuals to not return the survey due to perceived threats to their athletic eligibility.

Finally, some items from the South Oaks Gambling Screen that are concerned with problem and pathological gambling were eliminated from the survey instrument. While the SOGS is the recognized instrument for determining these types of gambling, our goal was not to establish a measure of these activities. Rather, our goal was to expand upon the findings of Cullen and Latessa and confirm or refute the gambling rates that they found in their earlier research. We believe the instrument we used accomplished this goal.

Directions for Future Research and Practice

It is the intention of the researchers to develop additional information about student athletes and gambling from the data that were collected. Potential correlates such as year in school, race, drug or alcohol use, team role, and differences between sports are just a few of the possibilities. The data are currently being reviewed so that the current study may represent a beginning, rather than an end, of current research about student athlete gambling. Analyses of this information and other correlates will be forthcoming.

Additional research is needed in a number of areas related to student athlete gambling. Our recommendations for future research include:

  • Study additional football and basketball student athletes to confirm the extent and nature of gambling activities found in this research. Considering the low rate of return by male basketball players, additional ways to increase their response rate should be considered.
  • Study all sports to establish an accurate measure of gambling behavior among student athletes competing in sports other than the traditional revenue sports.
  • Determine the level of student athlete gambling compared to their non-athlete peers. It remains unclear at what rate student athletes gamble relative to the rest of the student body.
  • Study coaches and administrators to determine if they are involved in gambling
  • behaviors that could either harm the athletic enterprise or cause them to look away when confronted by student athlete gambling within their teams or programs.
  • Studying referees and other game officials to determine their involvement with gambling activities that could compromise the integrity of college sports.

The NCAA has recognized the problem with student athletes and gambling and has done a commendable job in addressing the issue. However, additional steps need to be taken, which include:

  • Further education of student athletes regarding the dangers of gambling.
  • Further education of coaches and administrators about the prevalence of gambling by student athletes. Outside of this particular study, there has been extremely limited research on the issues that surround student athlete gambling. As additional information becomes available more direct and consistent educational sessions, as well as informed dialogue that extends beyond the anecdotal accounts of particular incidents can occur.
  • Developing a high level of awareness and intolerance towards gambling by college student athletes and athletic department staffs. While educators typically shun "zero tolerance" policies, failure to adhere to NCAA Bylaws regarding gambling should be met with severe consequences, including forfeiture of eligibility.


Table of Contents | Executive Summary | Introduction | Review of the Literature | Methodology | Results
Discussion | Conclusion | Bibliography | Biography | Acknowledgements | Contact Information