Researcher says making small bets could lead to addiction

The Buckeyes take on the Florida Gators for the NCAA Men’s basketball championship Monday night. But it’s not just the team players who could win big. Thousands of people filled out March Madness brackets and tonight they’ll know how their wagers fared. While some say this kind of social gambling is OK, other’s say it can lead to addiction.

Betting on March Madness games became much easier and widely popular when the NCAA introduced the national bracket 22 years ago. The ritual takes place in local watering holes, offices and college dorms. Although it’s illegal in most states to bet on sports like the NCAA basketball tournaments, this kind of “social gambling” is generally overlooked – as long as a bookie is not involved.

Many people would ask: what’s the harm in making a small wager. A researcher at Central Michigan University, Tim Otteman, said for some, it’s the beginning of a gambling addiction.

“I’m never going to advocate that all gambling is bad, or say we should never participate bit what I am telling people is, it is a slippery slope. Nobody becomes an alcoholic before they have their first drink. Nobody becomes a drug addict before they smoke their first joint. And nobody becomes addicted to sports gambling before they fill out their first bracket,” Otteman said.

Otteman’s research brought him to a man who started small wager gambling as a high school senior. Before he finished his senior year of college, the 20-something had paid off the mafia to leave him and his family alone.

“At the end of his sophomore year he took over the gambling operation from the person he was betting with, operated it right out of his residence hall, doing about $20,000 a week. And at that point organized crime got involved because he was taking such a large amount of money out of the local community, those gambling dollars. They said either you’re going to cut us in on the profits or we’re going to shut your operation down,” Otteman said. Otteman said this is one of the worst case scenarios that could happen when gambling. He said he’s trying to find out how often young people get in over their heads. And it’s the college-age group that’s prone to gamble.

Jordan Huesman is a freshman at Ohio State University. Huesman said he’s been filling out brackets since he can remember. But he said he isn’t concerned with becoming addicted because he makes small wagers.

“There’s a bar that my dad and all his friends are at and it’s a $1, $5 and $20 pool. We usually try to put one in each. It’s gets kind of competitive. My mom’s actually winning ours right now. She’s kicking our butts,” Huesman said.

But Huesman said he could see how someone could become addicted if they place large bets. He said there’s more at stake.

Aaron Ziglar is also an OSU freshman. Ziglar said he started filling out brackets in sixth grade.

“My big brother and my dad used to always do it so I just got into it because they did it. But I kind of started liking it so I did one every year just for fun really,” Ziglar said.

For Ziglar, it’s not about trying to win money.

“Like, I might put a small wager on it every now and again, but it’s nothing serious. I do it for the fun. Just to see if I can guess the right colleges and get it and win it,” Ziglar said.

NCAA players are prohibited from betting on games including professional teams. The organization has even created a website to explain some of the dangers of gambling.

Otteman said the millennial generation, those in college now, is most prone to becoming addicted to sports gambling.

“The thing that I see with college students more than anything else is, again kind of goes back to the generation there in, is that they’re very technologically savvy. And so they have the ability to collect information much greater than we do in the generation that I come from,” Otteman said.

The NCAA estimates that one out of ten Americans placed at least one bet on a bracket this year.