BLOOMINGTON — Sports gambling is coming to Indiana.
With it come concerns from college programs within the state about regulation and protecting the integrity of athletic events.
Indiana became the 10th state in the country, and first in the Midwest, to legalize sports betting when Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill into law last week that also opens up construction of casinos in Terre Haute and Gary. The bill will allow for wagering on mobile devices. The Indiana gaming commission will sort through other potential regulations and begin approving casinos on July 1, with a target start date for sports betting to begin on Sept. 1, in time for football season.
The last reported major gambling scandal in college athletics occurred more than 10 years ago, when six University of Toledo basketball and football players engaged in point shaving activity from 2004-06 based on their ties to Detroit bookmakers. All involved pleaded guilty to charges and cooperated with FBI investigators in exchange for lighter sentences.
Indiana University athletic director Fred Glass said with legalization pending, the school examined its practices in educating athletes about the dangers of sports gambling through an outside law firm.
“We really found the measures we take are really robust,” Glass said. “But we will consider to monitor that and be very aggressive about that, with the NCAA, the conference and at the institution level to try to make sure that we’ll continue to protect the integrity of our programs.”
Of concern to both Glass and Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski are the mobile accessibility of sports gambling and non-traditional proposition bets. An example of a prop bet is wagering on how many shots a certain player will take in a basketball game on a specific night.
“When you get into the potential for more exotic and sort of one-off type of wagering, I think you open yourself to lots more risk of manipulation and influence,” Bobinski said. “That’s something that we were very concerned about and wanted to do our best to try to sort of maintain a normalized established structure.”
Butler University spokesman John Dedman said the school covers the potential dangers of gambling each year as part of its ongoing education with student-athletes.
“We know that people are going to bet on Butler basketball, just as they have legally in Nevada for many years,” Dedman said.
As a pre-emptive measure earlier this month, the NCAA lifted its ban on prohibiting championship events being held in states where sports gambling is legal. The NCAA offices are based in Indianapolis. Lucas Oil Stadium will serve as a Sweet 16-Elite Eight site in 2020 and a Final Four host in 2021.
At the Final Four in Minneapolis, NCAA president Mark Emmert said the association is pushing for federal guidelines over state sports gambling laws. Emmert also reiterated the NCAA’s stance on prohibiting athletes, coaches and staff at member schools from engaging in sports betting.
“The membership wants a prohibition of athletes gambling in any sports, period,” Emmert said.
In approving sports betting, Indiana legislators are banking on an enormous economic impact within the state. Holcomb projects the bill will create hundreds of jobs state-wide. New Jersey reported an economic impact of $6.5 billion when it approved sports wagering last year, based on both tax revenue and jobs created.
Daniel Wallach, a Florida-based attorney and sports gaming expert, said more than 80 percent of sports bets in New Jersey last year were placed on mobile devices.
“Indiana has gotten it correct in one significant respect in that they understand the importance and vitality of mobile wagering,” Wallach said. “Without that, it would really be an ineffectual law. Without it, it wouldn’t come close to realize its full potential.”
Wallach said while increased volume of sports gambling on mobile devices creates increased integrity concerns, mobile betting creates more opportunities to track irregular betting patterns and illegal behavior.
“Everything that takes place in the mobile environment requires registration of a customer account, social security information, credit card information, verify who they are and all of their bets,” Wallach said. “Every wager, both dollar or type of wager, is much more easily tracked on a mobile environment.”
There is some thought legalizing sports gambling will take away an element more prone to criminal activity that comes with a black market.
“An established gaming industry wants the same things that we want, which is integrity and competition and fairness,” Bobinski said. “They don’t want influence, they don’t want contests to be in any way questioned as to whether or not they were conducted in a fair and ethical manner ...
“But there still could be individuals that attempt to influence, and that’s why we can’t be less vigilant. I think we need to be more vigilant, just be out front and on top of those circumstances as much as we possibly can.”
Both Bobinski and Glass are hopeful the state gaming commission will create sound regulations that help limit the potential for outcomes to be fixed.
“It’s the prerogative of the General Assembly to set public policy,” Glass said. “You accept that. You just hope that the gaming commission will be particularly sensitive about the positions that colleges and student-athletes will have in this environment.”