Wagers, sportsbooks and chasing losses: Mobile sports betting on a college campus

On June 14, 2023, NC Governor Roy Cooper signed the legislation that legalized online sports betting across the state. After cutting through red tape, online sportsbooks officially went live in North Carolina on March 11, 2024. This comes just in time for a huge money maker in the college sports world – March Madness.  

There are currently eight new apps available to users in NC: ESPN BET, bet365, FanDuel, BetMGM, Caesers, Fanatics, DraftKings and Underdog Sports. According to regulation, apps are required to partner with an NC sports team owner or venue. For example, Fanatics announced their partnership with the Carolina Hurricanes in December 2023, securing their market access.  

Mobile sportsbook apps have taken college campuses by storm following the launch in early March. The average sports fan can take advantage of their hobby and make a quick buck through these apps.  

Sean Henderson is a senior at WCU, and he has seen the rise in sports betting amongst his peers. 

“Guys who like sports, I would say like 95% of them are gonna be sports betting because it’s just something everybody does. And if they don’t actively, they have,” Henderson said. 

WCU junior, James Hammock, has been using a variety of sports betting apps for a couple years now. Recent legislation has expanded the apps he can use. He sees a lot of positive aspects that come with sports betting.

 “It makes the viewing experience more interesting as you have more to watch for than just points,” Hammock said. 

It has also brought viewership to lesser-known sports as users can bet on things such as esports, women’s sports and professional leagues internationally.  

“I watch more sports or certain teams that I wouldn’t watch normally,” Hammock said, “I’m branching out more than just my normal favorite teams.”  

There is a balance to be maintained when participating in sports betting. There is money to be made but there is also a lot of risk involved. 

“There’s definitely an adrenaline high of your bet hitting, it’s a great feeling watching the money go into your bank account,” Hammock said. 

Hammock has had all-time earnings of $1,216 and he’s profited between $500-$600. 

For Henderson, the risks of sports betting outweighed the rewards.  

Henderson spent Spring and Summer of 2023 placing bets daily until eventually the consuming habit became too much.   

“It was like, this is taking up way too much of my time and money and I have other things to spend money on and I think I just got tired of seeing that little bit of money that I had disappearing so fast,” Henderson said. 

Gambling can affect more than a person’s finances. It can affect relationships, mental health and can cause legal issues.  

“My day was ruined if I didn’t win and then when [the bet] hit it was like super high, like riding a high,” Henderson said.  

With an uptick in accessibility, sports betting through mobile apps is putting gambling directly into the hands of a younger demographic. 

Popular apps such as PrizePicks and Sleeper Fantasy Leagues have allowed users as young as 18 to place bets for years. These apps function as daily fantasy leagues rather than sportsbooks, creating a loophole that allowed them to be on the market prior to March 11. 

WCU sophomore, Mike Carson, has been using mobile betting apps since he was 18. He sees the harm in marketing toward an underage audience.  

“It’s definitely made it easier for the younger generation because we’re more inclined to use technology like phones,” Carson said.  

There is no lack of advertisement for sports betting apps despite the risks of gambling. 

“Even just scrolling through social media or watching commercials of games about every third to fifth ad is going to involve sports betting,” Hammock said.  

FanDuel spent $157.7 million on TV advertising alone in 2023. DraftKings and BetMGM had similarly high spending. This budget does not include the various billboards, sponsorships and social media ads, according to casino.org. 

Mobile sports betting, like traditional gambling, can be addictive. The American Psychiatry Association defines gambling disorder as repeated, problematic gambling behavior. Things such as frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling or planning future gambling), returning to get even after losing money gambling and a need to gamble with increasing amounts to achieve the desired excitement are signs of gambling disorder.  

“It can be an addicting habit but there are also companies that are making money off of it so they’re not gonna advertise stopping it,” Carson said. 

It can be difficult to realize gambling has become a problem. There are resources for people who find themselves struggling. The National Problem Gambling Helpline can be reached at 1-800- GAMBLER (4262537). It is not a crisis hotline, but it will connect users with a licensed professional trained to deal with gambling related problems. 

Hammock suggests establishing accountability partners if you plan to participate in sports betting.  

“If I were to lose it all having someone be like, ‘alright pump the brakes, you don’t need to put any more money into it,’” Hammock said.  

WCU’s Counseling and Psychological Services can provide free counseling needs for students struggling with gambling disorder.  

“If a student were to be struggling with gambling as an addiction, we could absolutely provide counseling services,” Caroline Engler, the interim director of CAPS, wrote in an email.  

To make an appointment with CAPS or speak with a counselor students can call 828.227.7469.