What Does The NCAA Betting Survey Really Say About College-Age Bettors

What Does The NCAA Betting Survey Really Say About College-Age Bettors
© PA

A recent survey commissioned by the NCAA gave the gambling world some food for thought. As with all betting-related surveys, it contained plenty of eye-catching numbers ready-made for sharing on social media and in headlines.

A Google News search produced the following results (interspersed with more balanced headlines):

  • NCAA Sports Betting Survey Finds Wagering Widespread Among Young People — Even if it’s Illegal
  • NCAA survey suggests widespread teen sports-gambling problem
  • NCAA Says 67% Of College-Age Students Bet On Sports

With every survey, the devil is in the details. How were the questions framed? What was the methodology? And particularly in this case, how did the polling company, Opinion Diagnostics, arrive at the topline numbers like the one seen above?  

With that in mind, let’s look deeper at the survey and its results.

Methodology Is Good But Not Great

First, kudos to the NCAA and Opinion Diagnostics for revealing the specific questions asked and breaking out the answers and some of the findings. 

On the methodology front, there are a couple of things that stand out (quoting from the survey’s methodology):

  • Respondents were solicited from the participant pool of a national online panel using stratified random sampling.
  • Respondents were compensated for the full completion of all survey questions.
  • Results were weighted using a sum-of-the-parts iterative proportional fitting process first to match the known gender, ethnicity, and educational attainment attributes of 18-22-year-old adults within each of the four U.S. Census-designated regions and then to give each region its correct relative weight.

To summarize, this was a paid online survey, and without seeing the true, unweighted size of each regional cohort, the gender, race, and ethnicity breakdowns could have a much larger margin of error. 

What The Numbers Really Say

The two big numbers the survey produced are 58% and 67% - 58% having engaged in at least one sports betting activity, and 67% of students living on campus are bettors.

But what exactly is a bettor? Per the survey, a bettor is anyone who has ever placed a wager on pretty much anything. That includes betting on the NCAA tournament, in a pool, or participating in a season-long fantasy league. That doesn’t tell us much about the betting behaviors of college students. 

We get a clearer picture when we break those numbers out and combine them with the answers to other questions. It’s impossible to analyze without the raw data, but I feel comfortable saying that I would classify about 25% of the respondents as a bettor. 

The numbers showed 27.5% had placed sports bets on a mobile app or website

The numbers showed 27% of respondents bet at least a few times a month:

  • A few times a month = 13.3%
  • A few times a week = 9.9%
  • Daily 4.0%

The numbers showed 17% of respondents typically wager more than $50, and 60.5% typically wager no more than $20. 

The numbers showed 28.4% of respondents had lost more than $100 in a single day.

  • Between $100 and $300 = 16.7%
  • Between $300 and $500 = 5.9%
  • Between $500 and $1,000 = 3.6%
  • Greater than $1,000 = 2.2%

Risky Behaviors

One area that needed more attention was “Aggregation of Risky Behaviors,” in which the survey created a separate cohort for the following behaviors:

  • Betting either a few times a week or daily (13.9% of total respondents)
  • Betting $50 or more in a typical wager (17.2% of total respondents)
  • Losing more than $500 betting on sports in a single day (5.8% of total respondents)

One of the findings reported from this group is that 16% of respondents exhibited at least one of these behaviors. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reveal how many answered affirmatively to two or three of these items. 

Still, there appears to be a significant percentage of college students that would fall into the problem gambling or at-risk categories. 

A Few Interesting Findings

Nearly 61% of sports bettors (live or online) have placed an in-game wager and nearly 40% have bet on a parlay. 

From the Risky Behaviors section:

  • Majorities of these higher-risk gamblers are engaging in three or more betting activities, and more than half are using mobile apps to bet as well as play daily fantasy sports.
  • Higher-risk gamblers use a wider variety of bet types and bet on a larger number of sports, leagues, and events than their peers.

Another interesting tidbit in the findings was, “Respondents living in areas where betting is legal versus those in areas where betting is illegal report taking part in each sports betting activity at nearly the same rate.”

Not surprisingly, students are more likely to participate in NCAA Football betting than the general public.

Bottom Line

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the findings. 

That said, these are not the sky is falling numbers, nor are we seeing the raw data to determine the survey’s full findings.