You are here

Compliance Experts Share How to Spot Wagering

Sports-wagering seminar focuses on how to educate student-athletes and monitor betting habits

As part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness and provide more resources and expertise about behaviors that put student-athletes at risk, the NCAA hosted its ninth annual sports-wagering seminar this past October at the national office in Indianapolis to focus on education and monitoring.

Among the presenters was Eric Toliver, the senior associate athletics director for administration and compliance at UNLV, who advised attendees to know their constituents.

“You better know your student-athletes,” he said. “You better be in their locker rooms; you better be at their games and practices; you better be at the SAAC meetings; you better know who their connections are and who they associate with. There’s no way as an administrator or compliance person that you can sit behind your desk and think you’re monitoring your student-athletes and staff. You have to get out there and know them.”

Other presenters offered tips on educational programming, monitoring athletes and building relationships.

Dr. Christina Carter, the associate athletics director for compliance at the University of Tulsa, said her campus wanted to know how their educational programs were resonating after an unfortunate incident when the athletics director was fired after being involved in a sports-wagering scandal being investigated by the FBI that resulted in several indictments in 2012. The school surveyed student-athletes, athletics department staff and university representatives with athletics interests (such as trustees) with a simple online questionnaire that asked whether various sports-wagering activities were permissible. Responses to the 15 questions were either yes, the activity was permissible, or no, it was not.

The good news is that most student-athletes, coaches and staff responded that betting on sports for money was impermissible. The bad news was that not all of them did – which meant that at least some of the respondents thought it was OK to do something that could render a student-athlete permanently ineligible or get a coach or staff member fired.

“It re-upped our efforts to tell student-athletes up front not only about the rules but also about the penalties,” said Carter. “The best way to curb the behavior is to look someone in the eye and explain the consequences for it.”

While the incident was a nightmare for the Tulsa staff, it certainly reinforced the educational effort.

“I tell our student-athletes: If you don’t think this can happen to people, here’s an example of it happening to someone who was not a bad person but made bad choices. In his case, it was his job. In your case, it would be your eligibility – you’d be done,” Carter said.

“At Tulsa, and at most schools, not many student-athletes leave early to go pro and don’t even have that in mind – they want to stay and compete, and they want to finish their eligibility and earn their degree,” she added. “So when you tell them the consequences for gambling, it resonates with them because there’s not a pro career waiting afterward. Their college eligibility is it for them.”

Carter said any school, whether there’s been a sports wagering incident or not, should constantly evaluate its educational efforts. “Get in front of people face to face, and put educational materials where people will see them, not just in an email – bulletin boards near locker rooms and meeting rooms, flyers in the suites and athletics buildings, training rooms – even in the bathrooms,” she said. “Whatever people can see, like mugs, memorabilia, marketing items, whatever, is helpful.”

Gambling is a clinical concern

The athletics compliance staff at Missouri has taken a clinical approach to its educational efforts on gambling. Mitzi Clayton, the associate AD for compliance, and Deborah Wright, the school’s intercollegiate athletics counseling psychiatrist, have teamed up to emphasize the following:

  • Pathological gambling has been reclassified from an impulse control disorder to an addictive disorder.
  • Addiction is a primary, chronic disease.
  • Pathological gambling is a primary, chronic disease.

“You have to be persistent with campus groups that this is an important issue,” Clayton said. “Once you get there, changing campus policy isn’t that hard. Gambling is an addiction and should be treated similar to other addictive behaviors.”

Missouri focuses its educational efforts not only on student-athletes but also on residence halls and Greek life. Gambling education is wrapped in with education about student wellness (such as tobacco, alcohol, violence, financial health, etc.).

For schools looking to enhance their educational efforts, Clayton advises a collective approach.

“Assemble a campus-wide group,” she said. “You’ll be surprised when you have collective minds working toward a common goal how quickly things can fall into place. You’ve got to convince people that this is an addiction – that this is as equally as important as alcohol and drug abuse. In fact, any programs that focus on student-health issues like alcohol and drugs should include gambling. It is the silent addiction – you don’t see the student stumbling or notice the bloodshot eyes the next day, but he or she may be missing class and falling into a hole they can’t get out of.”

Clayton added that a campus-wide approach helps because every campus department can be an entry point for a person needing help, whether it’s a student who is experiencing a health issue because of the addiction, or is seeking money through financial aid, or perhaps acting out their frustrations and ending up in front of the campus judicial board. “You never know where the intersection is going to be,” Clayton said. What’s the No. 1 threat these days? “The things I don’t know; that’s our world in compliance,” she said. “Do your best not to leave stones unturned. Think outside the box and ask the hard questions. In compliance, you’re not anyone’s best friend, but this is not an ‘I’m out to get you’ situation; rather, it’s an ‘I’m out to protect you and our school’ situation. “People need to see that you care. It’s not just about reading people the penalties and then tell them to deal with it; your educational effort needs to show that you care about students’ health and well-being.”

‘The gloves are off’

Eric Toliver, the senior associate AD for administration and compliance at UNLV, said the “gloves were off” at his place when it comes to monitoring sports wagering behaviors of student-athletes, coaches and staff. He said it’s different at his school and others in Nevada because sports betting is legal there. But the application of NCAA bylaws is no different at UNLV or Nevada-Reno than at Ole Miss and Stanford. Violations could mean permanent ineligibility.

“It’s not so much about where you’re living, but how you’re living,” Toliver told the seminar attendees. “That’s how we treat our sports wagering education program.”

Toliver offered a number of suggestions:

Track the comps.

Many coaches as part of their salary agreements receive a number of comp tickets to games. Student-athletes also request tickets for guests on a “pass list.” Toliver advises knowing who those folks are.

“After every football, baseball and men’s basketball game, we run the names of all the guests that our student-athletes invite through a Google check,” Toliver said. “Several years ago, we had a guy show up who had spent 12 years in prison for committing illegal gambling offenses out of a trailer in a small town. When I asked the student-athlete about it, he told me, ‘Mr. T, I don’t know who that is.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m confused because you put him on your pass list as a friend.’ And the player says, “Uh, Mr. T, my AAU coach said that guy is his best friend and he asked me to put him on my list.’

“So that tells me I need to be looking at who these nonscholastic coaches are, too. My student-athletes help us with this. They came up with the term ‘NARP,’ which stands for ‘non-athletic regular people,’ so we’re always checking on our NARPs. Your coaches also have relationships with those club coaches. Our coaches have to sign off on who they’re giving their comps to. It’s a good idea for everyone.”

Photo shoot?

Toliver said sometimes during UNLV football and men’s basketball games, he’ll bring a camera with a big zoom lens and camp out behind the Rebels’ bench, across from the section where the boosters and comp-ticket holders sit. During timeouts he’ll take pictures, and the student-athletes and fans will catch him out of the corner of their eye and think, “What is he doing?”

“Next thing you know,” Toliver said with a smile, “Surveillance perceived; surveillance achieved.

“It’s just another way to make people think twice about what they’re doing,” he said.

It takes a village.

“People ask me, they say, ‘Eric, how many staff members do you have that you can sit there and go through all of the Facebook accounts and attend practices and games and meetings like you say you need to do in order to get to know the student-athletes and monitor their behavior?’ And I say you have to build your army. On every team there is a junior compliance official – kids who when they grow up want to be just like you. Let them be your interns – I’ve got one GA and two student workers who know this stuff better than