As sports wagering expands across the US, the NCAA national office has continued to work to protect both the well-being of student-athletes and the integrity of competition. Since the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act unconstitutional in 2018, the NCAA has focused on increasing educational efforts surrounding sports wagering integrity.
As part of the sports wagering educational strategy, the NCAA engaged EPIC Risk Management to provide a comprehensive and customized sports wagering gambling harm prevention program. Since the first full year of the program in 2022, over 10,000 student-athletes and administrators have attended in-person programming offered free to the membership.
The most recent NCAA Social Series welcomed Paul Buck, CEO of EPIC Risk Management, and Trever Wright, associate director of athletics for Cincinnati, to talk about the importance of the program.
“We specialize in the prevention of gambling related harm. For us, working with the college athletes is a really important program because we know that athletes are four times more likely to suffer from gambling related harm than the general population for a number of different reasons,” Buck said.
As part of the program, the in-person campus sessions focus on sports wagering awareness, protecting the integrity of competitions, gambling addiction and harm, and student-athlete well-being.
“It’s really important that during these educational sessions, we make them aware of what the potential dangers are. We make sure they understand the importance of talking to the support they’ve got around them and just make sure that this doesn’t become a problem that ever affects their current life or their future career, either in the game or elsewhere,” Buck said.
With 33 states plus the District of Columbia accepting wagers on athletics competitions and 11 additional jurisdictions either considering or having already legalized sports wagering that is not yet operational, many student-athletes are surrounded by peers who wager on sports.
“What we are really trying to educate with our student-athletes is that there are a lot of things that are permissible for the general public that just aren’t for you, and it’s the same for the coaches and the administrators. We really try to focus on that aspect while really tying in our psychologists and mental health because one unique aspect of this is that when it (sports wagering) used to be illegal, they (student-athletes) didn’t really have any students or peers saying, ‘Hey, you cost me $200.’ Now with it being legal in the state of Ohio, you could face that within your own class, let alone social media,” Wright said.
Mixing gambling addiction education with real life stories from EPIC’s presenters, the sessions have been helpful for Cincinnati’s student-athletes, according to Wright.
“Our athletes really benefit from real-world experience. Having somebody sit in front of them and speak of gambling addiction, what it looked like, how they went through it, how it affected his life, really was impactful, so much so that we’re having them (EPIC) back for another session,” Wright said.
If a student-athlete or someone they know does have a problem with sports wagering, Buck said it is important to reach out to somebody about it.
“If you do have a problem, talk. It’s one of the most stigmatized and silent addictions that there are, so if somebody is suffering a problem, we need to get the environment and ethos that it’s OK for that player or that staff member to come forward and talk about it because the real problems come with this if somebody bottles it up, doesn’t talk about it, doesn’t feel like they can talk about it and suddenly something happens like a suicide or mental health problems or certainly career over or that sort of thing,” he said.