The growth of online sports betting among college students — as many as one in four in the last year by one study — has UCF health professionals urging caution among students.

Overall, online sports betting continues to surge in popularity, with a projected revenue of $100 billion in 2023, according to the American Gaming Association. Among college students, a 2023 survey revealed 60% of students gambled illegally and one in five used financial aid to support their habit.

The lure of “big wins” and advertising that promises low-risk fun is often the starting line, says Stephanie Spies, director of Wellness and Health Promotion Services at UCF.

“People only talk about their wins; they don’t discuss the losses,” Spies says.

That culture of silence and the social nature of sports betting contribute to a lack of stigma, particularly as compared to something like substance abuse. When sports betting gets out of control, it’s easier to hide than other addictive behaviors until it’s too late, says Karen Hofmann, director of UCF’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

“If you’re failing at it, no one is aware,” Hofmann says.

Developing a habit typically comes incrementally. For instance, a few bets and wins with friends over the March Madness season can still become problematic. That’s particularly the case when paired with other stressors like midterms, says Jennifer Calame, assistant director of Substance Use Disorder Services at UCF’s Student Health Services.

“Students feel like it’s not a problem because they don’t do it all the time,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean it can’t become problematic.”

There are several signs that sports betting is out of control, including:

  • Financial issues: Inability to pay bills, frequently asking for money
  • Neglecting responsibilities: Skipping classes, staying up late to gamble, missing work
  • Relationship issues: Irritability, compulsive behavior, lying

Hofmann encourages anyone experiencing issues with sports betting to reach out and seek help. It can feel overwhelming, but there are ways to cope and make better behavioral choices. Calame reinforces that message and would applaud any student with the courage to seek assistance.

“There is still hope for you,” she says.

For immediate help, call or text the National Gambling Hotline: 1-800-GAMBLER (426-2537). For free counseling, reach out to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 407-823-2811.

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