Smart Calls For More Safeguards As Sports Betting Takes Off

Written By T.J. McBride on June 19, 2023
Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart wants more sports betting protections for young people.

Recently, University of Georgia football head coach Kirby Smart spoke up about sports betting and how it relates to his players. The coach, whose team won the national championship earlier this year, thinks sports betting by young people who don’t completely understand the implications of gambling is one foe that cannot be easily defeated.

Smart’s comments come after several scandals involving sports wagering have rocked collegiate sports. Several athletes in Iowa are under investigation for allegedly betting on sports, while Alabama baseball head coach Brad Bohannon was recently fired over an alleged betting scheme involving his own team.

While Smart is savvy enough to understand that sports betting cannot be stopped, he believes there needs to be many more safeguards in place to keep young people, especially young athletes, from ruining their lives on one wager.

Easy access to sports betting worries Smart the most

Georgia sports betting is still not legal despite several efforts from lawmakers over the years. It certainly won’t happen in 2023, and Smart’s views on it could adversely impact it at the statehouse moving forward.

In a recent interview with 247Sports, Smart said he has made educating his players on gambling a top priority. He called the instruction they have received “strong.” Experts on gambling say education is the best tool to prevent people from becoming irresponsible gamblers.

Even so, Smart says he feels outgunned.

“I can’t turn the TV on now without seeing something [about gambling]. There’s a lot of debate out there about what’s right and what’s wrong, but the NCAA rule is pretty harsh for gambling relative to some other things. It’s pretty obvious why. They don’t want that infiltrating teams. There’s a lot of states – including ours – where that’s been a great debate whether to allow it to come into your state. Well, it’s more about revenue for the state. It’s about protection for your schools.” 

Gambling is now generally accepted by the masses after years of being somewhat taboo in most places. Even in states where casino gambling and sports betting are illegal, people can find ways to gamble. One way is to wager illegally with an off-shore sportsbook. Another is to simply cross state lines.

For example, Georgians can visit neighboring states North Carolina or Tennessee to bet on sports. And while there is no casino in Georgia, one can jump on a ship like the Emerald Princess Casino in Brunswick, which travels outside Georgia boundaries to allow for gambling in a casino setting.

It’s that easy access that worries Smart the most, especially for easily influenced young adults.

“Kids can do this regardless of what state. It’s easy access. I see it everywhere. We try our best to educate the players and, sometimes, it takes somebody having a pitfall for somebody to learn from their mistake.”

Smart would rather his players not gamble on anything

Smart’s concerns should not be taken with a grain of salt. The earlier on in their lives people are exposed to gambling, the more opportunity there is for them to develop bad gambling habits. Additionally, the accessibility of platforms to place wagers on sports only continues to grow. It’s all compounded by the confusion about what is illegal and legal, especially for young athletes.

Numerous colleges have partnered with sportsbooks over the last few years. Some, like the University of Colorado, ended its deal early with PointsBet because of pushback from parents and alumni. CU had been the first university to sign a deal with a sportsbook. Lawmakers in Maryland added several requirements for partnerships between colleges and sportsbooks that all but ended the University of Maryland’s partnership with PointsBet.

The possibilities to bet on sports are endless, Smart pointed out.

“I mean, these kids, there’s like Chinese baseball games and stuff that people are gambling on. It’s like, what? They’re betting on horse racing in another country. It’s literally crazy how easy it is and the access they have to it, and then [with] the punishment you have to ask yourself, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy could lose his entire eligibility forever for betting on a horse race, you know, in another country.’”

The confusion for students can be a real issue. Many times they don’t completely grasp the complexities of gambling on sports. To make matters worse, the University of Georgia, for example, has a series on their website sponsored by the Georgia Lottery. Lines are blurry when it comes to what is allowed and what could be potentially damaging.

It’s even harder for student-athletes. They must follow strict rules or they could lose their eligibility. For Smart, he hopes his players will just avoid gambling all together to avoid these pitfalls. But he knows that is not fully realistic.

“I hope that our guys would be fiscally responsible that they would choose not to do that. And you’ve got to ask yourself: Are these kids that are 18-22 years old smart enough to know the difference [between a sport they’re involved in and a sport they’re not]?

“And it scares me. I would not want our players doing that at all whether it was legal or not. I would rather their money be in something a little safer than in gambling.”

Photo by John Bazemore/AP Photo

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T.J. McBride

T.J. McBride is a Denver-based writer and reporter with an extensive background in covering the NBA and Denver Nuggets. T.J. is Southern California native who provides news and analysis on the legal gambling industry across a number of Catena Media's regional US sites.

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