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Why Some States Prohibit Bets On Sports That Other States Allow

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Some sports, like high school and youth sports, are off-limits to sportsbooks in every state. Avoiding bets on children’s athletic performance is sound public policy. However, states draw the line differently on other sports. Most states allow betting on college sports, but others choose to keep betting out of college leagues. Olympics betting is another hard line that some states draw. 

All the sports that some states prohibit bets on have one thing in common: age concerns. It’s more than just about age, but the source of any squeamishness comes from issues associated with young athletes. 

The Challenges of Betting on College and Olympic Sports 

Bans on college and Olympic sports betting may surprise bettors. These are some of the most popular sports events, so they offer great betting opportunities. However, some policymakers have raised concerns about potential betting integrity issues related to athletes’ ages. 

The Issue with College Sports

The case for banning wagers on college sports is understandable. Because they’re in college, college athletes are more financially vulnerable. Their college educations may be covered by full scholarships, but that doesn’t mean their families are financially stable. Anyone who’s not covered by a scholarship may be someone the athlete wants to help financially. That leaves room for a shady bettor to bribe a college athlete into providing insider information or adjusting their performance to make a bet come through. 

Even though that sounds scary, it’s unlikely to happen. The NCAA prohibits college athletes, coaches, and other officials from betting or from providing insider information to sportsbooks or bettors. The NCAA will also disqualify anyone who breaks those rules from college games. Suddenly, a bribe or winnings on a prop bet don’t touch the value of a college sports career. The NCAA has made sure that compromising sport integrity isn’t worth it. 

Olympic Sports Concerns

This is rarer than college sports restrictions, but it’s out there, nonetheless. Although Olympic athletes are mostly adults, athletes only need to be 16 to compete. That raises the specter of betting on minors, which is unacceptable in every state with legal sports betting. 

However, that doesn’t mean that states have to ban wagers on the Olympics. It just has to ban wagers on underage athletes’ performances. Many Olympic bets include wagers on countries’ performances rather than individual athletes’ performances. These wagers are far enough removed from any one athlete’s performance that betting on one athlete be unlikely to affect the outcome. A minor’s performance certainly won’t. Athletes’ ages are also easily verifiable, so it’ll be clear whether their performances can be bet on in line with state law. 

So, even cautious representatives and officials can allow Olympics sports betting while protecting minors competing in the Olympics. It doesn’t have to be an either-or choice.

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Preserving The Sanctity Of Youth Sports 

The idea of gambling on a high school sports game makes people uncomfortable. However, it’s hard for people to articulate why. Saying it’s wrong is about as far as many can go. The answer is twofold. 

First, youth sports aren’t about performance. At their best, they teach young people vital life skills and values, including: 

  • Working with a team
  • Winning and losing gracefully 
  • Developing self-confidence and self-determination 

Putting money on youth sports implicitly wagers on which young people have developed those skills. Betting on professional and even college sports doesn’t carry that baggage. Those are athletes who are playing for performance, not just developing basic adult skills. Since the focus is almost entirely on performance, betting on these games is far more appropriate. 

That’s why youth sports can feel like it has a certain sanctity. For sports fans – and even student athletes’ parents – youth sports shouldn’t be something that’s made for money. It should be something that grows young people into young adults. Sportsmanship is one of those sacred values that we instill in children without bribing them into it. Betting on their games would defeat the purpose of it – even at the high school level. 

The Arbitrary Line That States Draw 

Some bettors may wonder why some states draw the line at college sports or the Olympics and prohibit bets on them. It may feel like those divisions are drawn based on politicians’ or gaming officials’ feelings. It’s more complicated than that, but only a little. 

Yes, a state’s political climate and the opinions of high-ranking Gaming Commission members can change state sports betting rules. They may change the rules so that certain states are less competitive than surrounding states. That’s what happens when a lot of states dive into a new industry. Over time, these policies will change in response to data from other states, shortcomings in their own states, and any scandals that may happen. (The first scandal is coming like a heart attack – maybe soon, maybe later, but it’s coming.) 

But because sports betting isn’t a partisan issue like gun control or abortion, professionals tend to do the best they can with this issue. Sports betting isn’t run by fanatics. It’s run by members of the reality-based community. Although states will draw the lines between prohibited sports differently and may choose to prohibit certain types of sports bets, many are doing their best to ensure that: 

  • State revenue is maximized.
  • Sports betting is safe. 
  • Sports games are secure. 

Some of these policies require tradeoffs from the others. Even though your desired sport may not be allowed in your state, surrounding states will likely offer it. If worst comes to worst, you can plan a vacation to a state that offers all the options you want. Or you can do what many New Yorkers did and take the train to a more permissive state next door.

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