In New Jersey, the legislators who crafted the sports betting laws tackled the theoretical issue of local college athletics being corrupted by legal wagering. The bill that was passed in June 2018 in the Garden State made it illegal for NJ sportsbooks to take bets on college games either taking place in the state or involving teams in the state.
It may not be a practical policy — after all, illegal betting on New Jersey college sports, both with bookies and at unregulated offshore sites, is still out there to potentially compromise the games — but at least it’s an enforceable policy. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement can monitor the bets offered at casinos and on mobile apps and has demonstrated that it will fine those sportsbooks that break the law.
In Pennsylvania, the sports betting law passed in 2017 has no such stipulation. It is every bit as legal to bet on Penn State football and Villanova basketball as it to bet on the Steelers or the Phillies.
So at least one college in the state is taking it upon itself to lay down its own law. News broke this week that the St. Joseph’s University student handbook now contains a policy forbidding any student or employee of the school from betting on any of the school’s sporting events.
There’s just one little problem: This rule will be all but impossible to enforce. It’s like those people who put signs on their lawns forbidding dogs from going to the bathroom there; a dog is going to do what a dog is going to do, and unless the owner of the house is standing on the front porch watching, the dog owner isn’t going to be deterred.
If anything, the dog owner might be that much more motivated, fueled by spite, to encourage the dog to lift its leg on that lawn.
St. Joe’s is not the only school attempting to ban betting on its own games among its students and faculty. Purdue University in the recently launched regulated sports betting state of Indiana has approved a policy similar to that of St. Joseph’s. (However, as Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann wrote on Thursday, because Purdue is, unlike St. Joe’s, a public university, it might face a legal challenge.)
And here in the Keystone State, officials from both the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State have expressed public objection to legal wagering on their schools’ teams, which suggests that, before long, St. Joe’s might not be alone on this.
But no matter how many colleges get on board, none of their rules will have any teeth.
It’s all well and good for them to be opposed to gambling and to suggest that wagering leads to fixing or point shaving (again: an equally real possibility if sports betting is technically illegal in the state, and one that is much harder to detect). But a policy like this is window dressing. It’s purely for aesthetics. It’s so the university can say to concerned parents and to the NCAA, “We’re being responsible.”
How exactly do the colleges plan to detect legal wagers on these specific games by their students and employees? Brick-and-mortar sportsbooks aren’t about to ask every customer to turn out their wallets and prove that they don’t contain student IDs. Same with the online/mobile books, such as FanDuel Sportsbook and FOX Bet. Customers need to be 21 or over to open an account. But at no point in the registration process are they asked to reveal whether they attend or work for any particular college.
It will be nearly impossible for a bettor to get caught unless that bettor wants to get caught. You’d have to place your bet from a campus computer — largely a relic of the past anyway, since almost every modern student brings a laptop to college with them— or do so on your phone in plain view of a campus security officer.
The NFL can’t enforce pass interference rules even when the penalty is committed in broad daylight and the coaches ask for a replay review. And these colleges expect to suss out a subtle tap on a phone behind closed doors in a dorm room?
A cold sip of reality
Whatever college you went to, whatever era you attended college, chances are your experience with underage drinking was similar: Everybody did it, and everybody got away with it as long as they didn’t call undue attention to themselves. And unlike a 21-year-old St. Joe’s student betting on a St. Joe’s game, a St. Joe’s freshman having a beer is actually against the law.
If campus police aren’t going to go out of their way to crack down on an illegal activity, it’s hard to imagine them busting skulls over one that’s perfectly legal.
Whether a college kid is placing a bet on the St. Joe’s basketball team at SugarHouse Casino or doing so at an offshore site, the amount of money he’d need to have on the line to make it worth his while to pay off a classmate to shave points is astronomical. If anyone was going to play big enough to wield financial influence over a game, it would be some shady character running an illegal bookmaking operation, not some college junior studying engineering and trying to earn a little extra beer money on the side.
The only people college campuses really need to police when it comes to sports wagering are the players and coaches. And for them, you shouldn’t need campus bylaws spelling out that they can’t bet on their own games. The athletic director needs to tell the coaches there’s a zero-tolerance policy and the coaches need to tell the student-athletes there’s a zero-tolerance policy. Get caught betting on one of your own games, you get kicked off the team. Simple as that.
But that’s just common sense.
Telling students who aren’t involved in the games that they can’t bet on them is the opposite. It’s senseless.
Those who want to place a wager will. And those who don’t want to get caught won’t get caught.
St. Joseph’s and other schools are welcome to present an image to the community of being on the “right” moral side of sports betting. But if they’re expecting a policy in a student handbook to do any more than that, they’re wasting their time.
Photo by Derik Hamilton / USA Today Sports