Wednesday, March 29, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 121

Cougar Comics Online

UH Baseball

Allen is making the most of increased playing time

From the Inside

About the Cougar

UH should be concerned about Internet gambling

By Rohith Nandagiri
Daily Cougar Staff

Steven is a college student in Pennsylvania. He was a straight-"A" student in high school and now he attends a prestigious college. 

He is also working two jobs -- pretty impressive for any college student. However, Steven is not working to fund his summer trip to California. He is saving up to pay off nearly $30,000 in debts he accumulated from participating heavily in the new craze on college campuses -- Internet gambling.

The saddest part of this story is that Steven's father died, and instead of being able to help his family, he needs to pay off his credit cards one month at a time.

These stories are becoming more and more rampant as Internet gambling sites become more and more prominent and accessible. Nearly 700 gambling Web sites operate in the United States, which is a significant increase from the 30 which were used just three years ago. Internet gambling took in an estimated $1.2 billion in 1999 after taking in $651 million in 1998. 

The NCAA basketball tournament, which is going on now, affects a large chunk of the money. In fact, March Madness is the most heavily bet upon sporting event. Of course it goes on for a month, but it is bet upon more than the Super Bowl.

But the larger problem is students gambling on sporting events. Many of them have a limited amount of cash or a credit card which is used to gamble.

The cash, which is intended to be used for food and gas, can be used to place bets. But online gambling, uses credit cards, which many times seems like free money.

University of Minnesota professor Ken Winters has been studying gambling since 1989. He says that high school-aged kids gamble, but they "don't have enough money to get into real trouble." 

But the students at college typically do have money and thus, are able to feed the habit. There have been many stories, according to NCAA Assistant Director of Federal regulation Daniel Nestel, of students spending their tuition money on Internet gambling.

Another problem is athletes gambling on sports, sometimes even at their own level. A lot of these players have direct impact on the games they gamble on.

College administrators are aware that some of their athletes gamble. A 1998 study of 1,000 Southeastern Conference students found that athletes were twice as likely to be problem gamblers as non-athletes. The explosion of the Internet gambling sites allows easy access to everyone. A study by the University of Cincinnati found that 25 percent of the 2,000 athletes in college football and basketball bet on sporting events other than their own.

In Dallas, Southern Methodist University Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Caswell noticed a problem back in October. He became aware of an individual going to fraternity houses and passing out advertisements for Internet gambling sites. He is currently surveying some students to see how big the problem is. But he has his own feelings.

"My suspicion is that Internet gambling is probably bigger than we think it is," Caswell said.

The ease with which bets can be placed is also alarming. All you have to do is deposit a small amount of money, say $50, into your account. You then pick which team you think will win going along with the spread. If the line is -10 and you think the Rockets will beat the Bulls by more than that, you can put all your money on that one game. It just so happens the Rockets won by 45 this past Sunday. But it's not that easy. 

Matt, a recent UH alum, feels that sports bets can be enjoyable "because it makes unimportant games all the more interesting. People gamble all the time through lotteries, casinos, horse racing and other things. What makes this any different?"

Opponents say that the difference is the age requirement. In online gambling centers, there are no age checks -- all you need is a credit card. But proponents say it is up to the family, not the government, to decide. 

Keith Whyte, executive director for the National Council on Problem Gambling, sees definite problems with this issue. 

"College campuses bring together a lot of Internet access, a propensity for sports wagering and most students have credit cards. We are seeing signs that it is becoming a problem."

The legalities of Internet gambling are becoming an issue. With the NCAA's blessing, the government is trying to curb this before it becomes bigger. 

Some site operators were prosecuted under a 1961 law that bans betting over phone lines, and a more specific ban on most forms of Internet gambling has been passed by the Senate and is being debated in the House of Representatives.

If this law passes, it will make it illegal to place any sort of bet on the Internet. But rest assured, betting will still go on. With so many computers and so many ways of getting online, it will be a difficult problem to stop without proper education and awareness.

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