One of the top officials in US collegiate athletics said Thursday that his conference has seen an increase in gambling on its events over the past five years.
That shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise, but SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told members of the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) that the growth has reached beyond the traditional major college sports.
It was football and men’s basketball and women’s basketball in the postseason and baseball in the postseason if you go back five years,” Sankey said, according to The Tennessean. “Now it’s all those sports all season long, incredible volume, and it’s volleyball, and it’s soccer and it’s softball. I haven’t heard the gymnastics report for us yet but those are very different realities and dynamics that are emerging around us.”
Sankey made those remarks at the APSE Summer Conference, which is being held this week in Indianapolis.
It also took place just one day before the start of the men’s baseball College World Series, where four of the eight teams competing are SEC schools and two other participants will join by 2025. In the days leading up to the championship event, scores of media outlets – both traditional and sports betting sites – have published betting previews on it.
Southeast Lags in Legal Sports Betting
Sankey told APSE that the conference gets betting data from US Integrity on a weekly basis that gives them insights into gambling behaviors both within the conference and nationally.
Legalized sports betting has grown rapidly over the four years since the US Supreme Court ruled PASPA unconstitutional. Across the US, 30 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico now allow retail sportsbooks, online wagering, or both. Four more states have passed laws and are in the process of launching the product in the near future.
Ironically, the one region where legalized sports betting isn’t nearly as prevalent as other parts of the country is the Southeastern US.
The SEC has 14 teams spread across 11 states, and only four of them – Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee – have legalized sports betting. Florida had online sports betting for a month last year after the state approved an expanded gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, but tribal leaders have suspended operations after a federal judge nullified the compact saying it violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Lawmakers in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, and South Carolina failed to pass bills this year that would have legalized sports betting in their states.
Concerned About Mental Health Again
The Tennessean reported Sankey telling APSE members that college athletic administrations were caught off guard by the rise of legal sports betting.
“In a time when our young people are continually seeking more mental health support as a society, if we are not open and attentive to the reality being (created) from sports gambling then we are abdicating our responsibility,” Sankey said. “This is a significant factor in their lives that has been introduced. … It affects our coaches as well, plenty of pressure there at our level, they accept that but this is a changing dynamic that we have not at all been attentive, too.”
It’s not the first time Sankey has brought up the connection between student-athletes’ mental health and sports betting. At the 2019 SEC Football Media Days, he referenced the potential impact in-game betting could have on players.
“We’re seeing trends in the mental health area that should cause us all to pause before these ideas around specific event betting within college sports are allowed to take place,” Sankey said at the time, according to the AP. “And I’m talking about, for example, whether a field goal is made or missed, whether a 3-point try is successful. Is a pitched ball a strike or a ball?
“That pause should happen before any of these types of activities take place.”
Sports Editors Interested in Betting Content
The Sankey comments weren’t the only time sports betting came up as a topic at the conference Thursday.
The conference also included two breakout sessions on sports betting that were designed to give editors more ideas on reporting about “sports gambling without compromising your journalism” and going beyond the point spreads many newspapers have published for years in their sports sections.
“Our goal is to increase the comfort level and knowledge of sports departments in covering sports betting, and to show them how it can be done profitably,” Zach Ewing, director of sports betting for NOLA.com and session moderator, said in a preview article on the APSE website.
Panelists for the sessions were Mike Kates of Gambling.com, Mike Szvetiz of Lee Enterprises’ FrontPageBets, and former Indiana Gaming Commission Executive Director Sara Gonso Tait, who oversaw the launch of sports betting in the Hoosier State.
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