Sports Betting and Other Gambling in Athletes, Fans, and Other College Students

By Nelson, Toben F.; LaBrie, Richard A. et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Sports Betting and Other Gambling in Athletes, Fans, and Other College Students


Nelson, Toben F., LaBrie, Richard A., LaPlante, Debi A., Stanton, Michael, Shaffer, Howard J., Wechsler, Henry, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Gambling on college and professional sports and the influence of attending colleges with differing levels of "sports interest" were examined among athletes, sports fans, and other students (N = 10,559) at 119 colleges in the United States using multilevel statistical analysis. Athletes and fans reported more sports gambling compared to other students, with no differences between athletes and fans. Male students were more likely to gamble than female students, but gender did not moderate the relationship between athletic participation and sports gambling. Students attending schools with a greater "sports interest" were more likely to gamble on college sports after adjusting for individual characteristics. Athletes, sports fans, and students attending schools with high "sports interest" are appropriate targets for prevention efforts.

Key words: epidemiology, multilevel, risk behavior, wagering

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Researchers, college administrators, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) officials, federal legislators, and members of the media are devoting increased attention to gambling by college students and gambling associated with intercollegiate athletics. The NCAA has identified gambling by athletes as a major threat to the integrity of intercollegiate athletics (NCAA, 2004b). To help address this problem, the NCAA membership adopted bylaw 10.3 that prohibits athletics department staff and student athletes from engaging in gambling activities that relate to intercollegiate or professional sporting events. The NCAA also strengthened its educational efforts with athletes, coaches, and college administrators. For example, the NCAA promotes and distributes a videotape prepared by the professional athletic leagues in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to educate NCAA member schools' staff and students about the potential for sports wagering to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardize the welfare of individual athletes and the larger intercollegiate athletics community (NCAA, 2004a). As part of this initiative, the NCAA surveyed sports wagering among college athletes (NCAA, 2003, 2004b). The study noted that resource constraints precluded surveying nonathletes and suggested this missing information might be obtained by consulting other surveys, such as the 2001 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study (CAS; LaBrie, Shaffer, LaPlante, & Wechsler, 2003). This paper reports the results of a CAS study designed to fill that knowledge gap by contrasting the gambling activity of a nationally representative student sample grouped by type and extent of athletic participation.

Most research on gambling has focused solely on individual attributes. This study is informed by a public health perspective (Dickson, Derevensky, & Gupta, 2002; Korn & Shaffer, 1999; Shaffer & Korn, 2002), which emphasizes how the patterning of risks are distributed in a population and pays particular attention to environmental determinants of health and illness. We used social ecological theories (e.g., Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Stokols, 1992) to situate individuals within a social ecology that considers how facets of the physical and social environment interact with individual attributes to influence behavior. This approach considers: (a) intrapersonal factors, including biological (e.g., genetic, physiological) and psychosocial (e.g., motivation, knowledge, skills), (b) interpersonal factors, such as the influence of relationships with family, friends, peers, and coworkers through social modeling, feedback, and support for behavior maintenance or change, and (c) institutional factors, including culture, norms, policies, and physical environment. The current study examines the interpersonal factor of participation (either as an athlete or a fan) in collegiate sports and the institutional factor of sports interest at the college level on gambling behavior.

There has been concern about an epidemic of gambling on campus stoked by increased access to sports-related media programming (McCain, 2003). …

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