It’s impossible to watch sports on television or online today without seeing ads for online gambling. Betting on sports has a become a, with the American Gaming Association saying that more than $93 billion was spent on sports gambling just last year.
As that number continues to grow, so do the scandals. A string of incidents in college sports this year is raising questions about the impact of gambling on college athletes’ integrity.
When the Iowa Hawkeyes took on the Iowa State Cyclones in September, it was five players not taking the field who made some of the biggest headlines. All five, including Iowa State’s star quarterback, were sidelined and dealing with criminal betting charges. Some had even bet on their own teams — something that Matt Holt, the operator of Las Vegas-based tech firm U.S. Integrity, said “just can’t happen.”
U.S. Integrity has been retained by all the major college conferences and nearly every sports league in the country. It’s the watchdog guarding against illicit betting on games and making sure everything is done fair and square.
“I think Iowa and Iowa State was a huge eye opener,” Holt said. “How much bigger do we get than a starting quarterback?”
However, this wasn’t the first time U.S. Integrity realized something was amiss. Months earlier, the company had noticed something fishy about the bets placed on a University of Alabama baseball game. Holt alerted state regulators, and in May, the school fired its baseball coach because he allegedly helped an associate make bets against his team, in a game he was coaching. That, Holt said, was a “five-alarm fire.”
U.S. Integrity Chief Operating Officer Scott Sadin has a background in the hedge fund world, where he analyzed Wall Street transactions to root out suspicious deals. Now, he does the same with sports data, watching “everything that has regulated sports wagering available on it” for anything alarming. The company focuses on betting lines, odds, social media posts and more to try and spot suspicious behavior. The company’s most common concern is gamblers trading on inside information. If they find something alarming, they alert leagues, state regulators and the NCAA.
“Around 15 to 20 notifications go out to sports book operators and regulatory offices a month,” Sadin said. There are 363 Division 1 teams in college basketball alone, 10 times as many as in the National Football League or National Basketball Association, meaning that Holt, Sadin and their teams have their hands full.
College sports have had gambling scandals over the decades, but the spread of online gambling makes them even more prevalent. One Division 1 athletic director told CBS News that he and his colleagues are “on pins and needles” and “scared to death” because of the recent scandals.
NCAA president Charlie Baker described the threat to the integrity of college sports as “extremely prevalent.”
“The fact that it is now, you know, on your phone, you don’t have to go somewhere to bet, you can do it anytime you want, I think it’s a real challenge, not just for us, but for student athletes,” Baker said.
Holt said that he hears such sentiments often.
“They could have happened anywhere,” Holt said. “How could I ever say that I don’t think it’s happening? Because the proof recently shows someone dug in that well, and there was water.”