Charlie, a 22-year-old student who spoke on the condition that only his first name be used, started gambling during his freshman year at Syracuse University. He soon ran into trouble.
Syracuse has no online sports-betting partner, though it promotes gambling through its partnership with the nearby Turning Stone Resort and Casino. Charlie, however, placed his bets with illegal bookies.
“It went from $5 bets, $10 bets, and $200 bets to $500,” he said. He gambled on tennis, baseball, golf, soccer. “I got a little bit of UFC, even,” he added, referring to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
By the fall of his senior year, Charlie knew something was wrong. He was depressed and couldn’t sleep. His grades were sinking, and he owed $1,800 to multiple bookies. Sports betting had grown from a casual pastime into a serious problem.
“I couldn’t stop countless times. I’ve turned $100 into $2,000 and then, within the same hour, lost all of that $2,000 plus another $500. And then you can imagine how depressing that feels, right? I mean, it’s just — it’s horrible.”
Students are often slow to recognize that they may be unable to gamble responsibly.
“The person who is developing into a problem gambler, for the most part, doesn’t want to stop gambling, because their head thinks, ‘This is fun. This is going to fix my problems,’ rather than, ‘I need to stop gambling because I’m destroying my life,’” said Michelle Malkin, an assistant professor at East Carolina University who researches the connection between gambling and crime. “It’s really hard, especially for a young person, to come to that conclusion.”
In January, just as he was supposed to start his final semester at Syracuse, Charlie left school and sought treatment. Instead of graduating with his friends in May, he spent his time working at a golf club to pay off his gambling debts and seeking help at a rehabilitation center. He now attends weekly Gamblers Anonymous meetings and is unsure about his plans to return to Syracuse.