The debut of legal sports gambling earlier this month in Kentucky ushered in a new era for the commonwealth, and a new thing for the state’s colleges and universities to be mindful of.
On the morning of Sept. 7, a slew of Kentucky politicians made ceremonial bets at brick-and-mortar sports gambling locations across the state — including at a Caesars Sportsbook at Lexington’s Red Mile racetrack — to mark the start of legal sports wagering.
But the scope of sports betting in Kentucky will spike again this week: At 6 a.m. Thursday, online sports betting will begin in Kentucky.
Last Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear said there were more than 60,000 pre-registrations for mobile sports wagering accounts, a figure that doesn’t include people who registered for accounts when sports betting was legalized in neighboring states.
And the money being spent on sports betting in Kentucky is already significant.
Beshear said brick-and-mortar sports betting locations have posted a total handle of more than $4.5 million so far.
Earlier this month, just a few hours before the first legal sports wagers were made, UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart addressed this new-look landscape during a speaking engagement at the Lexington Forum.
The obvious challenge that Barnhart and his fellow athletics directors in the state now face is making sure student-athletes are steering clear of any NCAA violations.
NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from making sports wagers on any NCAA events, including their own. Permanent loss of eligibility is among the possible punishments for doing so.
This issue has risen to the forefront in recent months, with betting scandals at Alabama, Iowa and Iowa State all making headlines.
In the past, Barnhart has said UK’s athletic department compliance officer, Rachel Baker, has a history of working on gambling issues from her time at the NCAA.
During this month’s speaking engagement at the Lexington Forum, Barnhart explained the process UK uses with its student-athletes to try and prevent potential sports gambling issues.
“(It’s) really important that our education is strong,” Barnhart said.
Among the measures taken by UK was an August meeting featuring all student-athletes and all coaches at the Singletary Center on campus.
That meeting — which Barnhart said had more than 1,000 people in attendance — included a presentation from U.S. Integrity, a sports wagering monitoring company that aims to protect against sports betting-related fraud and corruption.
“Clearly, if they want to (make a sports bet), they’re going to find a way,” Barnhart said in light of recent sports betting issues at other schools.
“But we continue to try and put up all barriers that we can to say, ‘We’re going to try and keep the competitions clean. We’re going to keep the integrity of the sport the way its supposed to be. And we don’t want players, or coaches, or staff members betting on the games that we play.’”
College administrators, coaches face challenges of sports betting
In addition to methods like this, college coaches themselves have also dedicated time to discussing the dos and don’ts of sports gambling.
“Let’s hope we don’t have any issues with it,” UK football coach Mark Stoops has said. “We have certainly talked to (the UK players) about it in-depth.”
Eastern Kentucky University athletics director Matt Roan has said the legalization of sports gambling was discussed in a variety of meetings and sessions with EKU student-athletes and staff members.
“I think the onus is on us, the responsibility is on us, to continue to educate, to continue to reinforce that, just because everyone else (can legally gamble on sports), it is against NCAA rules (for athletes to do so),” Roan said.
While the landscape locally has changed with sports gambling now legal, new ventures nationwide mean people like Barnhart and Roan have to stay plugged into developments and trends.
For example, during that Lexington Forum speaking engagement, Barnhart referenced a phone call between college athletics directors and ESPN.
That phone call came after ESPN signed a licensing deal in August with Penn Entertainment to create ESPN BET, a sportsbook for audiences in the United States.
“Information is king in today’s world,” Barnhart said, while noting that a wide swath of information ranging from coach and player availability to travel issues for teams will now be used to affect sports gambling tendencies.