Americans Split on Whether Gambling on College Sports Should Be Banned

by Mark Gillespie

Experts say millions wagered on NCAA tournament


PRINCETON, NJ -- When the NCAA men's basketball championship game tips off tonight at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, some Americans will be watching to see if their bets on the game will pay off. Law enforcement officials say the NCAA tournament has become one of the most bet-on sporting events each year, in terms of legal wagers placed at Nevada casinos, as well as quasi-legal office pools and illegal betting through bookmakers. Nevada casino officials do not release figures for bets placed on the tournament's three weeks of action, but state regulators indicate about a third of the $2 billion wagered annually at the state's sports books is on college sports.

Americans Deny Betting on NCAA Tournament

Despite all of this attention paid to gambling on the NCAA tournament, a Gallup poll conducted March 18-20 (between the first two weekends of this year's tournament) found a very small number of Americans -- just 4% -- saying they had bet on the tournament, either through a "pool with friends or coworkers," or "by some other means." Among college basketball fans (roughly 40% of the population) the percentage is 10%. Since wagering on sports is generally illegal in every state except Nevada, it is possible that some people might not admit to an interviewer that they had committed an illegal act.

To put the issue in perspective, Gallup's 1999 social audit on gambling in America found that 10% of adults had bet on a sporting event within the past year. In addition, nearly seven out of 10 adults had taken part in some form of legal gambling within the past year, and 31% had specifically gambled in a casino.

Congress Considers Ban on Collegiate-Sports Gambling

A bill currently pending in Congress would ban betting on college sports nationwide, eliminating what critics have called the "Las Vegas loophole." Nevada is the only state that allows betting on collegiate sports, and the state's gambling industry has lobbied strongly against the bill. The March 18-20 Gallup poll finds Americans divided on the issue, with 49% saying gambling on college sports should be illegal and 47% saying it should not be banned. The results are similar among college basketball fans, among whom 48% favor and 48% oppose a ban.

Critics of collegiate-sports gambling cite several recent point-shaving scandals and the growth in illegal betting on college campuses. Opposition to a ban is strongest among those in the 18-29 age group (57%), with support coming largely from those aged 50 and older (57%).

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,009 adults, 18 years and older, conducted March 18-20, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Have you placed a bet on this year's NCAA basketball tournament in a pool with friends or co-workers or by some other means?



Yes, placed a bet

No, have not

No opinion

2002 Mar 18-20




Do you think gambling on college sports should -- or should not -- be made illegal nationwide?



Should be illegal

Should not be illegal

No opinion

2002 Mar 18-20




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