Gambling 101 - a loser of a course. Betting on professional and college team sports is nothing new, but it may have become a serious addiction among some college students
Raleigh, N.C. — EVERY morning before class, David, a senior at North Carolina State University, would go to the newsstand and buy USA Today. Not to read the news, but to check the latest betting lines. One weekend last May he lost, and lost big - $1,500. After his consistent begging and a promise never to bet again, his parents bailed him out.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, student bookies are said to take other students' stereos, microwaves, and hunting rifles as collateral until outstanding gambling debts are paid.
And at nearby Duke University, Dean, a recent graduate who made frequent $300 bets on football and basketball games, likens betting to eating chocolate.
``If you had a candy bar yesterday, it makes you think about having one again today,'' he says.
Gambling seen as sickness
Although specific statistical breakdowns are not available, some experts say students across the nation are spending their college years developing an addiction to gambling, according to Irving S., national executive secretary of Los Angeles-based Gamblers Anonymous. (Last names in GA are abbreviated for anonymity.)
In extreme cases, grades suffer, friendships become strained, tuition checks are secretly gambled away, fraternity pledges are made to take out $100 student loans for other members, part-time jobs must be taken to pay off lost wagers.
And as a last resort, parents are called upon for bailouts.
``Every campus has people who bet sports, especially on the big campuses where they have big football teams,'' says Mr. S., ``but it's hard when you're 18, 19, or 20 to recognize that you have a sickness.''
At three major universities in North Carolina's Triangle area, betting goes on all the time. Arrests or investigations are rare.
North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are typical of the gambling situation at most large universities, according to national gambling authorities, though they may not illustrate the most extreme cases.
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a handful of sports-savvy students turned illegal sports betting into a lucrative cottage industry. An eight-month police investigation led to the 1985 arrest of 11 students who handled nearly $52,000 a week in gambling receipts.
At that time two students at the university took another student hostage in a dormitory room to collect on a $1,200 gambling debt. Another faked a burglary in his own room to collect insurance to cover a $5,000 gambling debt.
University response to these incidents includes seminars, speakers, a special student committee, educational pamphlets, and incorporation of gambling education into the school's health-education program.
But ``interest in the issue has faded with the television cameras fading,'' says Margaret J. Nellis, coordinator of community health at the university.
``What we're battling now is a lack of awareness that it even exists on campus.''
Student activity on increase
The National Council on Compulsive Gambling in New York reports that about 5 percent of its 312 national hot line calls for the first quarter of this year were from concerned college students.
The organization's annual May conference in New York will focus on gambling among high school and college students, says executive director Jean Falzon.
``There surely is an increase in college students [who gamble],'' says Arnie Wexler, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey Inc., in Trenton. ``Of the nearly 700 calls made last year to the council's gambling hot line, nearly 20 percent were from college students.''
About a dozen of the 70 students interviewed for this story could pass for young Wall Street financial analysts. They spend weekdays poring over game variables such as injuries, weather, team morale, and past performances. They spend weekends making a dozen or so well-researched ``investments'' - all in the name of making a fast buck.
``People shrug when you say it's like drugs, but it's worse. It's a disease,'' says David.
He would often wake up in the middle of the night amid a sea of spreadsheets, pencils, calculators, and team histories - an evening's `homework' - during last year's basketball season.
``You suffered in grades,'' he continues.
``Every single day I would go buy USA Today to see if the lines had changed. There's The Gold Sheet that predicts scores and outcomes of the games. We'd drive 45 minutes just to get it, because places around here would be sold out early.''
Harassed by bookies
On-campus sports betting is more than a matter of friendly wagers. Bets range from $10 stakes to four-digit figures and are placed with student or professional bookies.
``I don't really bet anymore,'' says N. Whit Page, just after winning $190 on a Michigan-Notre Dame game.
In two large eight-column grade books, a bookie friend of Mr. Page's would keep the bets and balances of nearly 100 customers, including students, alumni, and off-campus adults.
Bank bags stuffed with thousands in $20 and $50 bills lay about his room, according to Page, a Chapel Hill, N.C., native. ``It was a hassle for him to collect money,'' he says. ``That was his biggest problem. If someone couldn't pay he would set up a payment plan.''
Few students mentioned threats or incidents of harassment if debts went unpaid, though the UNC student newspaper quoted one bookie last year as saying:
``We threw his microwave around and took his book that he had a test in the next day. He only owed $130. I couldn't understand it. He could have donated plasma and made that much. It's amazing how quick he got the money to us after that.''
``We have had people come in who have lost a sufficient amount of money [on gambling] and who are concerned with how they're going to pay rent or tuition or whatever,'' says UNC dean of students Frederic W. Schroeder Jr.
``Sometimes they will tearfully express the reason they need to be authorized for an emergency loan or need someone to cosign for a loan.''
In North Carolina, as in most states, illegal sports betting is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison, a fine, or both, to be set by the judge.
College-level arrests rare
Law enforcement officials, such as Duke campus police chief A.B. Washington Jr., call student gambling ``low priority.'' Such an attitude has infected student gamblers themselves, many of whom have little notion that each time they place $20 on a football game, they are breaking the law.
``I guess I'm appalled generally if students have that kind of money to toss away on a bet. That kind of thing should not be going on,'' says Carl R. Fox, district attorney in Orange County, which includes Chapel Hill.
Lance Emory, supervisor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's organized-crime program for North Carolina, says the FBI investigates only large-scale gambling cartels. The investigations rarely, if ever, lead the agency to campuses.
``For us to be involved in university gambling, it would have to be very large scale or it would have to involve some aspect of athlete bribery,'' he says. ``A sports book operation would have to average at least $10,000 to $20,000 a day, or up to $100,000 for a weekend. We haven't had information come to our attention that it is going on at that scale.''
Parents take part
Another reason for the casual attitude taken toward student gambling is that sometimes the parents themselves bet, says UNC senior Duncan Morton III from Charlotte, president of his fraternity.
``I know that there are plenty of parents involved in it,'' he says. ``A friend of mine calls one of his friend's dads, who knows a lot about it and talks to him about what to do.''
Students who bet say they don't worry about getting caught, because little is being done about betting on campuses.
Betting, for one, is hard to detect. Few people will bring gambling complaints to the police, since the ones affected by it are usually the ones breaking the law.
``I think it's harder to get caught because you can blend in so well,'' says UNC associate professor John M. Silva. ``It's like drug trafficking - it's hard to track drugs in a college environment.''
A survey taken by the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey Inc. asserts that 96 percent of all compulsive gamblers start before age 14. Few specific statistics are available regarding gambling among college students.
According to Gaming & Wagering Business, a monthly New York magazine, the amount Americans bet legally and illegally on sports increased 8 percent in 1986, to $22.2 billion, about twice the annual budget of Hungary.
Whether colleges serve as breeding grounds for such activity is uncertain. Information everywhere
But information designed to put gamblers ahead is available everywhere - an indication that sports betting has become almost as socially acceptable as bingo.
Newspapers such as USA Today publish lines and odds, and television shows such as ESPN's ``Sportsline'' analyze them.
Students take advantage of the information. Before placing a bet, many student bettors consult the daily point spreads and team histories printed in newspapers. At local bookstores, they pick up The Gold Sheet, a Los Angeles-based weekly digest of team ratings, considered the bible of the betting world. They run up $50 to $200 a month in phone bills calling an out-of-town sports information number that runs 50 cents a call.
Reasons for the craze
Students bet - whether they can afford it or not - for a variety of reasons, according Mr. Silva.
Especially for groups of students who live together, gambling becomes a social event. ``It's just a thing for people to talk about and interact with each other through,'' reports Mr. Morton at UNC. Betting affects freshmen the worst, he adds. ``With freshmen, they come in and lose a lot. It's something they've never been around a lot before. They think it's the coolest thing to do.''
Another explanation is that by winning, students can show off to their peers, Silva says.
``The person believes that their picks are right, that they know something that somebody else doesn't know. When they lose, it's something that disproves they're knowledgeable,'' he says. ``When you start losing, you don't want to quit, because you don't want to take loss.''
Kevin, a senior at North Carolina State who tries to limit his weekly betting to $200, but often doesn't, agrees with Silva. Betting makes him feel more involved in the game, and part of the reason he bets, he says, is to impress others with how much he knows about sports.
``I, for instance, went 11 and 1 in football in the weeks that I bet and people would call me up and say, `Hey, what should we do?''' he says.
``Everyone's looking for something that's fun, that gives them a high. Gambling, it's just like a drug. It's addictive. People do it, and they lose themselves in it. Soon they're betting more money than they can afford.''
`Epidemic' of gambling
The state's Council on Compulsive Gambling reports that there is an ``epidemic of compulsive gambling in New Jersey.'' It calls gambling ``a devastating `hidden' illness,'' causing suffering to countless families.
The council is a nonprofit agency that runs a toll-free hot line - 1-800-GAMBLER - to help compulsive gamblers and their families.
Of all the calls to the hot line in the past few years, an average of 85 to 90 percent were from males. About 7 percent of the callers were under 21 years old, 30 percent between 21 and 29, 33 percent between 30 and 40, 20 percent between 41 and 54, and 10 percent over 55.
Of all the calls received, 58.6 percent tended to be from the gambler, and 41.4 percent from others
The council is at 1315 W. State St., Trenton, NJ 08618. Its regular number is (609) 599-3299.