Sports betting is legal in most states, and universities are getting in on the action. As the New York Times reported earlier this week, eight universities have already signed contracts with gaming companies.
Last year, Louisiana State University's athletic department partnered with Caesars Sportsbook, a gambling corporation. The contract gives Caesers the naming rights to the Skyline Club at Tiger Stadium and the right to advertise at the stadium, LSU"s basketball arena, and the varsity baseball stadium.
Cody Worsham, LSU's associate athletic director and "chief brand officer," describes the deal as a win-win for everybody. LSU "shares a commitment to responsible, age-appropriate marketing," he said. That commitment "is integral to a sustainable and responsible partnership benefiting our entire department, university, and fan base." That sounds like bullshit to me.
Robert Mann, an LSU journalism professor, is not sure LSU's gambling partnership is a good thing: "It just feels gross and tacky for a university to be encouraging people "to engage in behavior that is addictive and very harmful," Mann said in an interview with the Times.
Indeed, LSU sent an email message encouraging recipients, including students too young to legally gamble, "to place your first bet (and earn your first bonus)."
Implicit in LSU's new revenue stream is the belief that gambling is not harmful and that students too young to place bets won't engage in sports betting.
However, that sentiment is naive, if not downright disingenuous. LSU students will see sports betting advertisements when they go to Tiger Stadium to watch a football game, and they can place sports bets on their cell phones. Does anybody believe LSU's contract with Caesars won't cause more students to gamble?
Louisiana is already lousy with gambling opportunities: riverboat casinos, land-based casinos, truck stop casinos, and the Louisiana Lottery. (The lottery also advertises at LSU). Ubiquitous gambling advertisements often portray young, prosperous, and healthy people having a ball at one of the state's many casinos.
I've strolled through the Louisiana casinos several times over the years, and almost no one looks happy and prosperous to me. Mostly, they look old, unhealthy, and poor. Why would a young and successful person want to throw money away at a truckstop casino in Port Allen, LA?
The universities and the gaming companies seem to believe they have met their obligation to discourage addictive gambling by posting an 800 number at the bottom of their ads informing people where they can call to get help for gambling addiction. But does LSU really want its students to seek professional counseling to overcome a sports-betting addiction--a habit that LSU profits from?
LSU students must be on their guard when they see their university pushing sports betting. Gambling is not suitable for anyone, especially young college students. In fact, every time an LSU undergraduate sees an LSU gambling enticement, they should remind themselves that their university is not their friend.