Sports betting has exploded in popularity across the United States following the landmark 2018 Supreme Court decision allowing states to legalize wagering. With intense growth however, has also come intense scrutiny, especially when it comes to protecting student-athletes.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in North Carolina. The state legalized sports betting in 2021, though wagering is currently limited to retail locations on tribal lands. Major operators like BetMGM are chomping at the bit to enter the market, enticing new bettors with North Carolina sports betting promo codes and a BetMGM bonus code in North Carolina.

This fervent interest has translated into rapidly growing handle and revenue numbers in the state. However, it has also led to a sharp uptick in harassment targeting student-athletes. Critics argue the easy access to wagering statewide has fueled this abusive behavior.

Most recently, the University of Dayton men’s basketball team was subjected to intense online attacks after blowing a 14-point second half lead to Virginia Commonwealth University. Head coach Anthony Grant told reporters the harassment deeply affected his players.

This is not an isolated occurrence. Harassment of athletes has spiked considerably since the expansion of legal sports betting in 2018, according to regulators and sports officials. While fans have always second-guessed coaches and criticized players, the anonymity of social media and the accessibility of sports wagering has emboldened a new vicious breed of critic.

In 2017, NFL player Richard Sherman expressed concerns that fantasy football was turning fans against players, dehumanizing them as mere pawns for making money. This mindset has only spread with more mainstream sports betting. Critics feel entitled to lambast 19-year-old college athletes for missing free throws and costing them bets, forgetting the immense pressure already on these unpaid students.

The connection between expanded sports gambling and increased harassment cannot be ignored. States must take action to both punish offenders and provide resources to frightened students who feel trapped in this vitriolic environment.

In Ohio, regulators are proposing strict sanctions banning abusive fans from legal sports betting. Less serious violations would require mandatory counseling educating culprits on appropriate conduct. While not solving the problem altogether, prohibiting harassers from placing wagers legally could deter further actions by hitting them where it hurts – their ability to gamble.

Schools and the NCAA also wield tremendous authority when it comes to protecting student welfare. Campuses have always reserved the right to ban problematic individuals from events and could extend these restrictions to sports. The NCAA could take cue from pro sports leagues which employ security divisions to investigate threats. Creating a similar internal unit focused on college threats would allow faster response while empowering victims to come forward.

Critics may argue that restricting betting rights encroaches on personal freedom. However, sports gambling is not an inherent right but a state-sponsored privilege. No one is entitled to wager, especially not if they abuse said privilege and harm others in the process. States provide sportsbooks the license to operate on the provision they monitor patrons and encourage responsible betting.

Others will highlight the impossibility of restricting all harassment, especially that which occurs anonymously online. This defeatist attitude however only accepts the status quo instead of striving for progress. True change starts with top-down cultural shifts. When authorities institute harsh penalties for misconduct, it communicates wider societal intolerance while deterring imitation.

State officials may also consider allocating tax revenue from sports betting to fund expanded prosecution resources for gambling-related crimes. Threats and harassment fall under state and federal cyber harassment laws. Devoting funds to pursuing charges would demonstrate commitment toward student safety over gaming interests.

As more states like North Carolina legalize sports wagering, balancing excitement over growing revenue with protecting those most vulnerable will prove challenging but imperative. The solution lies in a collaborative effort between lawmakers, regulators, schools and the public prioritizing people over profits. Progress remains difficult but refusing to act poses an even greater risk.

✅ Fact Checked on January 17, 2024 by Ken Weaver