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March Madness means sports betting bonanza amid concerns young people are being targeted

 "Pass on gambling when you're feeling down, sad or bored. Avoid drinking alcohol or using other drugs when gambling. Plan gambling, so it doesn't interfere with schoolwork or other priorities. And the last safety tip is to set limits on the amount of time, money and other resources used for gambling in advance." ~ Kelly Gorman, Director, Office of Health Promotion at the University at Albany
UAlbany Office of Health Promotion / Instagram
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Composite image by Dave Lucas
"Pass on gambling when you're feeling down, sad or bored. Avoid drinking alcohol or using other drugs when gambling. Plan gambling, so it doesn't interfere with schoolwork or other priorities. And the last safety tip is to set limits on the amount of time, money and other resources used for gambling in advance." ~ Kelly Gorman, Director, Office of Health Promotion at the University at Albany

March means the return of the NCAA Tournament — one of the most lucrative sports gambling events of the year. But it also comes with concern about the proliferation of sports betting advertising and problem gambling among young people.

Sports betting, legalized by a 2018 Supreme Court decision, has taken America by storm, with smartphones becoming electronic bookies, making online wagering available 24/7 in a growing number of states.

"March Madness" coincides with "Problem Gambling Awareness Month." According to the American Gaming Association, 68 million American adults plan to wager $15.5 billion on the NCAA tournament this year.

The National Council on Problem Gambling says 67% of all college students bet on sports. In February, New York Congressman Paul Tonko introduced the Betting on our Future Act, which would ban online and electronic advertising of sports gambling, which he says targets impressionable young people. The Democrat from the 20th district spoke on WAMC’s Congressional Corner:

"We're not recognizing that there can be consequential outcomes here," Tonko said. "And it's a blitz that is just growing, because it's about making more and more of a profit is this area of activity. And it's operating in a mostly unregulated, wild west environment, if I might say, and the sports books are flooding our television broadcasts, and our social media feeds with wall to wall ads, and again, offering either risk free or no sweat bets. You're reaching people at a very tender age."

Tonko says it's easy to start gambling, and it can quickly grow into a problem and then become very difficult then to stop. He likens sports betting advertising and promotions to the tobacco industry before limits were in place.

The American Gaming Association trade group adamantly opposes the bill, claiming it would violate free speech protections. The trade group says legal betting markets already require a focus on safe and responsible wagering.

Dylan Oratz is a sophomore communications major at Syracuse who bets a few times a week.

"It's hard to have self-control and tell myself to stop," Oratz said. "Sometimes a little bit easier. And kind of just kind of depends on the moment, you know, if all my friends are doing something, and are encouraging me to do it, or adding a bit of a big event or something, I feel more inclined to just keep adding more and more money, despite how much I'm down. So, you know, it just depends on the moment, I'd say and how I'm feeling."

Tom Seipp is a senior sports media major at St. Bonaventure, who says he is "heavily involved" in betting on college basketball but stops short of describing his participation as "addicting."

"I do a lot of research before I place wagers on games," said Seipp. "You know, I look at what the team has done in the last few games, what they've done against that opponent before, what their strengths are compared to the opponent's weaknesses. And I do that just because I cannot financially afford to just be throwing around money. So I definitely do my fair share of research. I do a lot of college basketball betting, with my dad. And we always go through what the team has done recently, you know, and different statistics like that. So, for me personally, every time I place a wager, I'm checking on how the team has done, if there's any injuries. I always do research before, you know, I put I press submit for a bet."

Seipp says his wins versus losses are about fifty-fifty. He says he and his peers bet using the FanDuel app.

"People our age definitely use FanDuel the most just because they give a lot of cool boost. And it's maybe the most appealing with their visuals," Seipp said.

FanDuel did not reply to a request for comment.

Kelly Gorman is the Director of the Office of Health Promotion at the University at Albany. A recent survey of over 1,000 students showed 87% choose not to gamble. What about the other 13%?

"It's tough to say for sure what those numbers mean, without more context around it," said Gorman. "We know that students define betting and they understand betting and a lot of different ways. When we think about betting, or gambling, sports betting is one form of gambling. There are card games, eSports, lotteries, and scratch-offs. There's so many different things that actually fall underneath the broader umbrella of gambling. One thing we're working to understand further is how our students understand gambling, and then we can get more of an idea about the more specific behaviors that they're engaging in."

Gorman says the Collegiate Recovery Program is in its second year of operation. The campaign aims at helping students understand their relationship with gambling, offering peer support and advice for controlling their experience.

"Pass on gambling when you're feeling down, sad or bored," Gorman said. "Avoid drinking alcohol or using other drugs when gambling. Plan gambling, so it doesn't interfere with schoolwork or other priorities. And the last safety tip is to set limits on the amount of time, money and other resources used for gambling in advance."

Seipp agrees, adding:

"Definitely take it slow at first, but enjoy it," said Seipp. "It's supposed to be for enjoyment. Don't do it for financial benefit, do it for enjoyment. That's where I find the most people who are happy doing it."

Online sports betting recently went live in Massachusetts, where the state's gaming commission met Wednesday after reports that an online wagering app used the term "can't lose" in a promotion that highlighted odds for early round March Madness games, a violation of commission advertising regulations. The app voluntarily withdrew the promotion. An adjudicatory hearing will be scheduled to further address the matter.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.