As student-athlete gambling rings emerge elsewhere, Kansas’ state gaming agency has launched no investigations here
KU also says it has no inquiries underway
As signs of sports betting rings involving student-athletes or coaches emerge at universities in Alabama and Iowa, a top gambling regulator in Kansas said he’s not aware of any such investigations taking place here.
That doesn’t mean the worry hasn’t arrived yet.
Randy Evans, governmental relations manager for the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, said a worrisome environment is emerging as expanded gambling laws make it easier to bet on college sports. To add to the issue, many college athletes now have more money to potentially spend on gambling, due to lucrative name, image and likeness contracts.
“They now have NIL money and disposable income they didn’t have two years ago,” Evans said. “I don’t know what the future holds for all of that. It is kind of scary, actually.”
Thus far, though, Kansas hasn’t seen what is unfolding in Alabama and Iowa. The University of Alabama this month fired its baseball coach amid allegations that he bet on games his team was involved in. Shortly thereafter, university leaders at both Iowa and Iowa State separately announced that about 40 athletes at the schools are under suspicion of having bet on college games in violation of NCAA rules and state laws there.
The Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission would be the state agency that would be alerted by sports book operators — companies like FanDuel and DraftKings — of suspicious student-athlete betting. The companies use computer programs and other such technology to try to detect suspicious or prohibited bets.
Evans said the KRGC does not have any investigations underway involving alleged student-athlete betting. He said the office also is not aware of any such investigations by other law enforcement agencies. He said the agency perhaps wouldn’t be aware of all investigations, especially internal ones conducted by the universities themselves.
A spokesman for Kansas Athletics told the Journal-World on Friday that the school does not have any investigations underway involving student-athlete wagering, and that the department hasn’t received any information alleging that student-athletes at KU have been betting on sports.
But the topic has been getting discussed around the athletic programs of the university. Daniel Berk, associate athletic director for public relations for KU, said the department’s compliance staff routinely has alerted student-athletes to the NCAA prohibition on any type of sports wagering.
Berk said the issue is discussed in detail during introductory meetings to begin the school year, and then is revisited during monthly meetings conducted by the compliance staff.
“It is a frequent topic on the agenda when they meet,” Berk said. “Our compliance people estimated they talk to the various teams about gambling and reminding them of rules and regulations probably eight to nine times per year.”
As potential violations have emerged at other universities in recent weeks, KU Athletic Director Travis Goff has issued additional communications from his office to remind both student-athletes and staff of the importance of the regulations, Berk said.
NCAA rules prohibit both student-athletes and staff members of the athletic department from wagering on any college or professional sporting events. The prohibition even includes participation in fantasy sports league that involve any monetary fees, Berk said.
In Kansas, like many states, student-athletes and staff members could be violating state laws if they make certain types of sports wagers. Kansas Senate Bill 84, which authorized sports betting in Kansas, requires sports books to prohibit “athletes, coaches, referees, team owners” and a host of other sports-related employees from wagering on any sporting event that is overseen by a sports organization that they are associated with. For example, students or coaches who participate in games sanctioned by the NCAA would be prohibited from betting on any NCAA events, even if it is a different sport from the one they play.
Evans said the sports books use technology and computer programs to generate red flags when bets are placed by those people. But Evans, who was a gambling enforcement officer for tribal casinos for years, said it can be a really tough activity to detect.
“If a student-athlete on any campus wants to have a girlfriend or a friend set up an account to bet for them, it would be difficult for any algorithm or software to catch something like that,” Evans said.
Professional sports have been dealing with the issue for decades, but the number of professional athletes to monitor is far smaller than the number of college athletes, and professional athletes could lose tens or hundreds of millions of dollars due to lifetime bans from the sport if they are caught.
The stakes for college athletes are serious, but different. They could lose eligibility to play their sport in college, and potentially some of the NIL money they have received. It is not clear what penalties student-athletes might face under state law.
The issue is important for the sports betting industry to control because if college athletes are betting on games that they are involved in, legitimate bettors are going to question the integrity of those games. Athletes who are betting on games could have motives to shave points or intentionally lose games to win bets.
Evans said the issues at Alabama and Iowa that are creating national headlines came to light after the Kansas Legislature already had adjourned for the session. It would be up to the Legislature to decide whether additional regulations should be added to Kansas law to address college wagering. Theoretically, lawmakers could decide that betting on college sports should not be allowed.
Evans said he thinks the Legislature might look at new regulations, but he stopped short of predicting what they may be.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if some legislation is introduced,” he said. “I don’t know what the answer is, though.”