Protecting minors from the influence of the legal gambling industry has become a focus for state legislators and gaming commissions as the regulated sports betting market blankets the United States.
The reach of illegal offshore gambling sites remains harder to police. Any minor with a computer is susceptible. That reach has extended into a handful of college newspapers.
A study of national college newspaper websites by Gaming Today revealed that at least two major publications at large state universities with popular athletic programs – The Daily Collegian at Penn State and The Daily Iowan at the University of Iowa – directly link to illegal offshore sites as sponsored links.
Penn State’s main campus lists an enrollment of 46,000. The University of Iowa is at 33,334.
Both publications’ editorial departments are staffed by students, while the business sides, including advertising, are run by professionals. The oversight or the calculus, therefore, would not appear to be made by students.
“Unfortunately, I’m not surprised; at the same time, I’m appalled,” Martin Lycka, senior vice president for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain, told Gaming Today in an email. “I should hope that further education in the college space will help clarify what is acceptable and what is definitely not acceptable. I will not speculate as to anyone’s legal responsibility but I would strongly suggest that these sponsorships are not a good look at all.”
Gaming Today has sought comment from the business departments of both publications.
Offshore Gambling Sites Target College Students on Campus
A “Sponsored Links” section at The Daily Iowan is littered with links to offshore websites that are illegal for any Iowan regardless of age. Sports betting is legal in Iowa for those aged 21 and older. Iowa has not legalized online casinos.
Among the links:
- A broken link to a cryptocurrency casino site that has since apparently ceased operation. The regulated American gaming industry constantly stresses the lack of consumer protections for avoiding offshore sites.
- A link to a New Zealand online casino site boasting, “we’ve done all the necessary research for you so that you can get all the information you need in order to make a smarter online casino NZ choice easier.”
- A link to a second New Zealand site.
- A link to a W88 casino site in Vietnamese.
- A link to an online casino Wiki in Japanese.
At The Daily Collegian, a “For the Students” tab redirects users to a page chocked with offshore gambling sites and affiliate pages for sites not regulated in Pennsylvania. The minimum age to bet legally on sports in Pennsylvania is 21. The state does have legal online casinos.
Among the links:
- A link to the alleged “best” online casinos in neighboring New Jersey, none of which are legal there.
- The best online casino options in Florida. Neither online sports betting nor iCasino is legal there.
- Best online casino options in neighboring New York. Again, online casino isn’t legal there.
- A litany of tout services not based in the United States.
Brendan Bussmann, the managing partner at gaming consultancy B Global, said he wouldn’t be surprised if advertising departments at college newspapers couldn’t differentiate between legal and illegal sites. He said there remains an education gap in the United States regarding “who are the people paying taxes? Who are the people that are licensed and legal to do all these things?,” he said, noting that major media outlets still quote Caribbean bookmakers in sports content.
And, like in the professional realm, campus journalism is under funding pressure, with various sites subsisting on vaping and campus housing ads or soliciting donations.
“Some of those are, ‘Hey, I just have to get money in the door to keep the doors open in some of those cases’,” Bussmann said. “I look at a local radio station that I listened to back in Nebraska, and I don’t know how many times they continually shopped at MyBookie.com.
“And I’m like, ‘Guys, you realize this isn’t a legal website?’ And I knew the producer, I knew some of the radio personalities, and they’re like, ‘Well prove it.’ And so I had to sit there and prove it because they don’t know the difference.”
A study conducted by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland found that of 145 Division I public universities polled, just 23% had published sports betting policies.
National Momentum Grows To Safeguard College Students
These infiltrations of campus media come as a national push grows to mitigate gambling advertising in general, but firewall minors in particular.
On Monday, the New York State Gaming Commission unanimously approved rules regarding sports betting advertising and marketing to safeguard minors. The legal sports betting age in New York is 21.
Among the new rules — which can’t take effect until after a 60-day public comment period — is an advertising prohibition in any medium “where there is a reasonably foreseeable percentage of the composition of the audience that is persons under the minimum wagering age.” A student newspaper would figure to fit that criterion.
In January, United States Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced a bill in the House to ban all sports betting advertising.
Colleges Walk Narrow Path As Legal Gambling Expands
The influence of legal gambling on college campuses remains contentious as it continues to develop. There have been missteps along the way.
Eight universities — the first was the University of Colorado — have signed sponsorships or other partnership deals with major gambling companies. Meanwhile, university presidents on some campuses continue to lobby for a ban on betting on intercollegiate sports to safeguard what they contend is a vulnerable student population.
In 2022, months after Caesars became the exclusive gaming and sportsbook partner of LSU, an email blast offering sign-up codes was sent to the student body population at large, much of which was younger than the legal betting age of 21 in Louisiana.
The University of Maryland inked a partnership with PointsBet in 2021, but backlash from a New York Times piece on such deals prompted State Senator Shelly Hettleman to file a bill that would prohibit colleges from receiving compensation for student participation “in certain sports wagering.”
The Ohio Casino Control Commission, whose rules regarding minors make such partnerships a virtual nonstarter, fined PENN Entertainment $250,000 after a Barstool Sports show on the University of Toledo campus shared a promotional code with the audience. DraftKings was fined $500,000 for mailing promotional material to more than 2,500 Ohio residents younger than 21, the legal age to wager.