Experts Say 20% of Students Are Gambling their Financial Aid Money

Grant Mitchell
Grant Mitchell
USA Legal Betting


  • About two-thirds of college-aged students who live on campus bet on sports
  • Most on-campus students do not meet the legal gambling age
  • Only 25% of colleges offer sports betting regulations

Student debt is one of the biggest issues that young people have to overcome as they enter adulthood—but according to the Executive Director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), some of those people may not be using their financial aid money to pay off their tuition.

Ted Hartwell of the NCPG said that two-thirds of students who live on campus engage in sports betting. According to estimates from experts in the field, as many as 20% of students use financial aid to fund their betting habits, whereas that money should pay for books and classes.

That’s despite roughly half of the college population falling below the legal gambling age of 21, a figure that is usually higher as far as on-campus students go.

Blissfully unaware 

Many students are still going through developmental phases when they first arrive at college.  

For many, it’s their first time away from home. Students may have never cooked themselves dinner or done their own laundry before, and they have lots of maturation to do in a short time.

The increasing prevalence of sports betting has become yet another issue for college-aged students to grapple with. Many don’t have large incomes and already have the burden of paying for tuition, food, and other necessities.

One of the reasons sports betting can seem so appealing is because it can turn five bucks into a life-changing one million dollars if a couple of shots bounce the right way. Social media is often flooded with winning bet slips from bettors that defied enormous odds and turned them into overnight sensations, which many novice bettors believe they can also become.

That line of reasoning, as tantalizing as it may sound, is dangerous and can lead to bettors taking on heavy losses.

“There’s this effect of people thinking, ‘Well, if I gamble more eventually, I am going to win,’ and the opposite is actually true,” said Hartwell.

Hartwell said that gambling addiction is the most frequently self-reported issue he sees in Nevada and throughout the country. 

Bettors who do not meet the age requirement and do not use legal sports betting sites also increase their risk of being defrauded and victimized by nefarious operators.

Money and change 

The meteoric rise of sports betting is unlikely to slow down any time soon. Legal sportsbooks are repairing enormous sums of money, with the upcoming period of March Madness betting being expected to result in $2.72 billion in legal bets, per the American Gaming Association. 

While companies often champion safe gambling practices and include messages or tips to reinforce moderation, problem gambling is still rising. Hartwell said the ease of access to betting odds via mobile betting apps combined with sports teams’ and leagues’ welcoming of gambling companies makes them hard to avoid.

Only 25 percent of colleges and universities explicitly have gambling rules, Hartwell continued. That often leaves students in the Wild West when it comes to wagering.

Lawmakers have taken a variety of approaches to dealing with sports betting at colleges. A law was passed in 2023 that made it illegal for colleges to endorse and advertise sports betting companies, which ended partnerships such as those between Caesars and LSU and PointsBet and the University of Colorado.

A proposal was also recently submitted in Maryland that would require sportsbooks to block bets that were geo-tracked to college campuses, though that has not made much progress.

As the sports betting industry continues to balloon, Hartwell has advice for anyone who is interested in getting into gambling or that has suffered from problem gambling. 

“You should always expect to lose your money when you gamble,” Hartwell said. “So that should always be disposable income.”

Anyone who is struggling with gambling addiction is encouraged to call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-GAMBLER.