SBC Summit panel: college athlete gambling ed must not be box-ticking exercise

panel at SBC Summit North America
Image: Shutterstock

The education of college athletes on the risks of problem gambling and awareness of tools available for support must be a consistent venture all year round, rather than a box-checking venture, according to the Commissioner of the Mid-American Conference

Jon Steinbrecher told an audience at SBC Summit North America that athletes must be protected from gambling on a consistent basis, rather than told as part of a process.

He told fellow panelists in a session titled ‘The importance of gambling education and protection of college athletes’: “We need to make sure we’re doing a really good job of educating them on the do’s and don’ts around all of those and this is not a one-time conversation; it needs to be consistent throughout the year, it’s not a box we check. 

“Second, do we have players or student-athletes or coaches or others who are being harassed or threatened? Now, I’ll tell you this, the fact that we have sports wagering again, we have people being harassed and threatened before we got into that. And so that’s not necessarily new, but it adds to it.”

Steinbrecher was joined on the panel by Bill Coley, a former Republican member of the Ohio Senate, and Dan Trolaro, VP of Prevention, US at EPIC Risk Management

The panel came in the weeks following the emergence of a college sports betting scandal, in which Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon was fired after an Ohio Casino Control Commission investigation found suspicious wagering activity on the school’s fixture with LSU. 

Trolaro attempted to outline the reason why college athletes may get into trouble with gambling or be sucked into such scandals, citing neurological research and behavioral traits. 

He explained: “Brain development doesn’t finish until the mid to late 20s, assuming no other neurological delay or disruption, and that’s the risk-taking piece. That’s the decision-making piece. We try to heighten awareness of what those vulnerabilities look like and what makes that athlete vulnerable. There are injured athletes who transition into the sport and out of the sport. These are all areas that we can tailor and address specifically within each institution.

“When we’re talking with the athletes, it can be a real personalized, developed conversation to highlight those warning signs and those personality traits, and encouraging them when you get out of school. You will experiment with things like cannabis and alcohol and drugs. Gambling is that thing that people will experiment with and it’s time that we can continue to have the conversation.”

Coley chimed in on the conversation from his specialty area from the legislative and regulatory standpoint, noting that illegal betting on college sports is taking place. 

Despite this, Coley was assertive in his belief that legalization of college sports betting was bound to happen and took the belief that legalization and regulation are the best way forward, rather than leaving college betting in the hands of the black market. 

Referring to conversations he had with opponents of college betting, Coley recalled: “It’s ridiculous. It’s going to happen, we knew it was going to be legalized, but you have to have the things in place to make sure you can address those matters. 

“When I had a check in Ohio over a 12-year period, there have been 14 arrests – not convictions – arrests for illegal bookmaking. There have been more than 14 illegal bets placed that week on the Super Bowl, from the 10th floor of the Right building in Columbus than 14. But it wasn’t being reported when they go to law enforcement, what do they say? 

“‘Oh, that’s great Senator, which murder case do you want me to stop investigating to deal with this?’ You’ve got to have great people in your Casino Control Commission, like they do in New Jersey, like you do in Ohio – who can knock on the door of those people and say, you’re under arrest.”

Moderator John Millington, SVP US Operations at EPIC Risk Management, then asked for one thing that panelists would focus on to help the prevention of problem gambling among student-athletes. 

As a former problem gambler, Trolaro outlined that he would tackle underlying mental health problems, such as loneliness, to help resolve a growing situation in the US. 

“I will say lightly to say the one thing that’s consistent across what I’m hearing today, and what’s necessary, is the phrase that I use -historic relationships, it’s about relationships,” he explained. “It’s about letting people know that they’re not alone, that they are not stigmatized, that there are resources available, that there are programs available to keep them safe, that there are programs available that care about their mental health and well-being. 

“The rules are that relationships lead to rebellion. We want to focus on that centerpiece, which is at the heart of everything that we do at EPIC, and relationships matter.”