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College students navigate the world of online sports betting

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It’s something that happened only in Vegas: sports betting. Now, Michigan State students are able to place wagers and prop bets from their phones. Some wonder where it's all going to lead.

EAST LANSING - Michigan State graduate Bailey Adkins’ morning routine includes brushing his teeth, taking a shower, making breakfast and gambling on sports.

“I became involved with online sports betting when I was about 16 or 17 because that is when I found websites that I could gamble on,” said Adkins. “However, I’ve been betting (my) friends on sports since I was probably 12.”

Gambling has become more accessible as technology improves and allows people to place bets on their mobile devices. Sports betting is no exception, becoming a starting point for younger bettors to branch off to other forms of gambling.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the “Lawful Sports Betting Act” in Dec. 2019, legalizing sports betting in Michigan by the end of 2020.

On March 11, 2020, sports betting launched in Michigan allowing sportsbooks to function in casinos and online within state lines. This has proved to be a monumental decision for much of the population. According to playmichigan.com, there have already been over $4 billion dollars

Sports media has been infiltrated by the sports betting business. For example, Bally Sports bought the rights to the regional Fox Sports channels across the country. Bally is a casino company. Ads for new promotions of different sportsbooks seem to air during every commercial break and even during the game in some instances.

College students in Michigan who are 21 in sports gambling have been put in a vulnerable situation. Journal of Gambling Issues reported that “the unsettling health risk of Internet sports betting appears to be justified.” A mixture of this pervasive nature, Coronavirus keeping people at home and online classes make this demographic a hot-bed for creating gambling hobbies.

Adkins graduated from Michigan State University in Dec. 2022. Adkins said he would consider himself an “avid” sports bettor and that he places at least one bet on sports everyday.

Adkins said online sports betting has resulted in becoming more invested in sports he never previously cared about. Soccer, hockey and even foriegn professional basketball leagues are some examples.

MSU senior Mateo Fernandez turned 21 in October last year. He said that he made an account on FanDuel and placed a sports bet the day he was legally allowed to do so.

Fernandez, however, said he places bets “very rarely” and has bet on sports just a handful of times. He also says that sports betting did not alter his gambling habits very much.

“If it had an influence it was a very small one,” said Fernandez, “I have only gambled around ten times in my life.”

Bradley Cholette, an MSU senior, shows a similar pattern. Cholette became the legal age to bet on sports when he turned 21 in May 2021.

“I’d say I place about one sports bet a week,” he said.

Sports betting is not the only thing that apps like FanDuel, DraftKings and others offer. Online casinos in Michigan were massive money-makers as well. In Michigan alone, these online casinos made a total revenue of $1 billion in 2021.

Adkins says that he plays casino games like blackjack, roulette and slots on these apps. Apps like DraftKings strategically place a button in the bottom right corner of its mobile phone interface that will lead users directly to a blackjack game. This button stays on the screen even if the sportsbook is what is being used.

MSU senior Jack Blackledge turned 21 in June 2021, coinciding with the rise of online sports betting.

“I will gamble a few times a week if I have some extra money,” said Blackledge

The online casino snuck up on Blackledge too as he began his sports betting hobby. “I would not have used the online casino if not for sports betting,” he said.

Promotions are often offered by online sports betting services to entice new users. Michigan State senior Allie Sawyer took advantage of these promotions.

“I recently downloaded the Barstool Sportsbook app right before the Peach Bowl because of a promo they had for being a first time depositor,” she said.

Online betting is much easier for people who have free time and extra money. College aged adults who were financially stable during the heights of the pandemic and online classes were just the group of people who fit this description.

Adkins said online classes and favorable options in terms of a satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading scale allowed him to stay up and watch sporting events he had bet on that started later in the night.

Blackledge used money that he had made through unemployment benefits after being laid off to gamble when he had free time.

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