It is impossible to watch sports on TV or online today without seeing ads for online gambling. Betting on sports has become awith the American Gaming Association saying that more than $93 billion was spent on sports betting just last year.
As that number continues to grow, so do the scandals. A series of incidents in college sports this year are raising questions about the impact of gambling on the integrity of college athletes.
When the Iowa Hawkeyes took on the Iowa State Cyclones in September, it was five players who didn’t take the field that made some of the biggest headlines. All five, including Iowa State’s star quarterback, were sidelined and dealt with betting allegations. Some had even bet on their own teams — something that Matt Holt, the operator of Las Vegas-based technology firm US Integrity, said “just can’t happen.”
American integrity has been preserved by all the major college conferences and almost every sports league in the country. It is the watchdog that guards against illegal betting on games and makes sure that everything is done fairly.
“I think Iowa and Iowa State was a huge eye-opener,” Holt said. “How much bigger do we get than a starting quarterback?”
However, this was not the first time US Integrity realized something was wrong. Months earlier, the company had noticed something fishy about the bets placed on a University of Alabama baseball game. Holt alerted state regulators, and in May the school fired its baseball coach for allegedly helping a colleague bet on his team in a game he was coaching. It, Holt said, was a “five-alarm fire.”
US Integrity Chief Operating Officer Scott Sadin has a background in the hedge fund world, where he analyzed Wall Street transactions to root out suspicious trades. Now he’s doing the same with sports data, seeing “everything that has regulated sports betting available on it” for something alarming. The company focuses on betting lines, odds, social media posts and more to try to spot suspicious behavior. The company’s most common concern is players trading on inside information. If they find anything alarming, they alert the leagues, state regulators and the NCAA.
“About 15 to 20 notices go out to sportsbook operators and regulatory offices a month,” Sadin said. There are 363 Division 1 teams in college basketball alone, 10 times as many as in the National Football League or the National Basketball Association, which means Holt, Sadin and their team have their hands full.
College sports have had gambling scandals for decades, but the proliferation of online gambling makes them even more prevalent. One Division 1 athletic director told CBS News that he and his colleagues are “on pins and needles” and “scared to death” because of the latest scandals.
NCAA President Charlie Baker described the threat to the integrity of college sports as “extremely widespread.”
“The fact that now you know it’s on your phone, you don’t have to go anywhere to bet, you can do it anytime you want, I think that’s a real challenge, right just for us, but for student-athletes,” Baker said.
Holt said he often hears such sentiments.
“They could have happened anywhere,” Holt said. “How could I ever say I don’t think it’s happening? Because the evidence recently shows that someone dug in that well and there was water.”