Whitman students go “all-in” on sports gambling

By Matt Mande

Students’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.


The first time junior Colin placed an online bet, it was before British Youtube celebrity Olajide Olatunji, more commonly known as KSI, took on American Youtube celebrity Logan Paul in an amateur boxing match in November. He bet $45 on KSI.

“I had never done anything like that before,” Colin said. “It was just an impulsive decision that ended up making me some money.”

KSI ended up winning the fight in a split-decision victory. Colin won $70 in profit, and because of the successful first experience, he felt encouraged to continue betting on boxing matches along with other sports. Colin has placed five bets over the past three months, and his net winnings have surpassed $100.

“I’ve pretty much just won everything,” he said. “There’s only been a few bets that have gone the wrong way.”

News of successful sports gambling experiences similar to Colin’s has spread and incentivized other Whitman students to try it, despite its illegality. In May 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which imposed a nationwide ban on sports gambling. However, Maryland law still considers sports gambling illegal. Although gambling usually carries a stigma of money loss and addiction, some students’ experiences tell a different story. Junior Chad gambles because, for him, it’s fun and profitable, but he’s cautious about the dangers of falling into addiction, he said.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, 60% to 80% of high school students report having gambled in the past year, and six to eight percent of these students are at risk for developing a serious gambling problem.

 “Gambling is addictive for the same reasons that other things are addictive,” psychologist Linda McGhee said. “They stimulate areas of our brain that crave excitement and thrills.” 

The emotions gamblers feel, although possibly enjoyable, are dangerous. Those with addictive predispositions can become dependent on sports gambling — especially teenagers.

“Betting is more dangerous for teens because the decision-making parts of their brain haven’t been fully formed,” McGhee said. “Also, because teenagers are more likely than other people to be addicted to being online, it’s just a natural extension that online sports gambling would be very prevalent in the teenage population.”

Chad started betting at the beginning of the college football season in September. He created an account on a gambling website, mybookie.ag, and added $50 to the account. He lost money with his first bet on a college football game, but despite that initial loss, Chad continued betting on college football, basketball and baseball as well as NFL and NBA games.

“It makes the games way more entertaining,” he said. “You really get into them and have a nice emotional release when something goes your way.”

Six months after Chad’s first bet and without any additional deposits, he now has over $500 in the same account. He prides himself on his ability to make smart bets and consistently profit, he said.

“I find the right ones, and I bet on them,” Chad said. “I just kind of got that eye for seeing the right and wrong lines.” 

For others, choosing which teams to bet on involves less instinct and more focus on data. Seniors Lucas and John both use Action Network, a website that provides a variety of statistics on teams from every sport to help gamblers.

“It gives you a ton of statistics about teams, including averages and which lines are the best to take,” Lucas said. “It’s primarily how I choose my bets, and it has really helped me improve my winnings.”

Similar to Chad’s introduction to the hobby, Lucas started betting during the college football season and used mybookie.ag to place bets based on his instincts. At first, Lucas struggled to win bets and lost hundreds. He became frustrated, so he decided to switch to a different strategy.

Lucas stopped using mybookie.ag and found an actual bookie, a friend’s older brother, who sets betting odds, accepts and places bets, and uses Venmo to pay or receive money from his clients. He also started basing his bets on Action Network statistics around the same time. Since then, Lucas has won back what he lost and gained some profit. 

“I thought sports betting would make watching sports more fun and make me a little money,” Lucas said. “It has definitely done both those things.”

Although sometimes fun and profitable, sports betting comes with serious risks. Gamblers all have biases that can cause them to make poor decisions, senior Bradley said. For instance, they may bet on teams they want to win, making it difficult to stay objective and bet without emotion, he said.

Bradley is a Baltimore Ravens fan and generally avoids placing bets on their games. However, when the Ravens faced the Tennessee Titans in the NFL playoffs, he decided he would make an exception. To his disappointment, the Ravens ended up losing, causing Bradley to lose $60.

“I usually live by the rule that you should never bet on your favorite team because they can only let you down,” Bradley said. “I chose not to bet on them the entire season, and they won 14 straight games. When I finally did bet on them, they let me down.”

Chad, Colin and Lucas have also had their fair share of losses. Chad remembers betting $15 on six different games in the NBA. The teams he bet on lost five out of the six matchups, resulting in Chad losing $60. He used this as a lesson to avoid betting on NBA games, Chad said.

Colin, although winning the majority of his bets, lost $30 on a boxing match. Lucas lost $50 when the Titans defeated the Patriots in the NFL Wildcard playoff round.

“When something doesn’t go your way, it can be very depressing,” Chad said. “It really depends on how much you lose, but either way it never feels good to lose money.”

Although none have lost money overall, these student gamblers rely on their own salaries to maintain their hobby. Bradley gambles using money from his job as a soccer coach, while Colin, Chad and Lucas all work as lifeguards. Still, all four believe they aren’t addicted. 

“I feel like you’re addicted when you start to gamble money that you don’t have,” Bradley said. “I’m very happy to say I’ve never done that.”

But psychologist McGhee said simply having an income isn’t enough to avoid addiction. 

“The question is can you stop, and will you continue to do it even when you’re hurting other parts of your life,” McGhee said. “No side hobby should be preoccupying your life. You shouldn’t be spending all your time researching teams and betting.”

Whitman’s gamblers, although denying addiction and holding steady jobs, are aware of the dangerous potential for an addiction to develop, Chad said. 

“I do think I could get to a point of addiction, so I’m generally careful about that,” Chad said. “But honestly, I think it’s added something fun to my life, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”