In Massachusetts, residents cannot wager on their favorite in-state college sports teams unless they’re playing in a tournament of four or more teams, such as March Madness.
While some bettors may be upset by this rule, it is the opinion of one industry expert that not allowing betting on in-state college teams helps to protect student-athletes.
Mark Hichar, a shareholder at the Greenberg Traurig law firm, is an advisor when it comes to casinos, gaming system providers, operators and investors in gaming. He is also based in Boston.
He has paid close attention to the legalization and launch of sports betting in Massachusetts, and spoke with PlayMA about why he believes Massachusetts is doing the right thing by not allowing bets on in-state college teams.
Here are his thoughts.
MGC prioritizes safety
Overall, Hichar believes that Massachusetts is an industry leader when it comes to responsible gaming. Helping protect student-athletes is a big part of that.
Hichar noted that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has paid close attention to the safety of young people in sports and sports betting.
“I do think there is a recognition among regulators that young people are at risk,” he said, “particularly people who are in the public eye and can be subject to pressures.”
The main reason for this concern is that college athletes could be swayed by gambling money in ways that professional athletes wouldn’t be.
Past scandals lead to caution today
In the past, there have been several sports betting scandals surrounding college sports.
“Sadly, there’s been a history of scandals at the college level,” Hichar said. “There was a Boston College basketball scandal that took place in the 1970s. Memories are long in Massachusetts and in other states. I think the legislature wanted to protect for that and look after young people so they, to the extent possible, wouldn’t be subject to the pressures that could be brought to them.”
What Hichar referenced is the Boston College point-shaving scandal from the 1978-79 season. During the season, mafia members paid members of the Boston College basketball team after instructing them to either cover or fail to cover the spread of games.
It’s one of the most infamous instances of sports betting bleeding into the integrity of the game.
Protecting college student-athletes
It is also Hichar’s opinion that banning bets on in-state college teams can aide the physical safety and protection of athletes.
As legalized sports betting expands across the United States, there has been an increase in fan anger over lost bets. In addition to angry social media posts and threats toward athletes, there have been instances of angry sports bettors harassing student-athletes after their bets lose.
It’s an issue that professional athletes face as well, especially in the fantasy sports world. But it’s slightly different when the harassment is targeted at an 18- or 19-year-old college athlete.
“You can put a young person in a very difficult position,” Hichar said. “There’s certain benefits of aging: Wisdom and maturity.”
Massachusetts will continue to prioritize the protection of college athletes moving forward, especially with the start of the college football season right around the corner.
But even if all the right rules are in place, that doesn’t mean problems won’t arise.
For example, it is illegal for college athletes to bet on college sports, but four players on last season’s Iowa State Cyclones football team are facing tampering with records charges related to gambling on college sports. The players allegedly placed numerous wagers on Iowa State sporting events.
Massachusetts will continue to do all it can to prevent these issues and protect athletes, but it’s possible that banning wagers on in-state college teams doesn’t solve the issue entirely. Only time will tell.