Petition to end Michigan State University partnership with Caesars Sportsbook
After the tragic events at Michigan State University in February, the campus community gathered for a candlelight vigil at the Rock. We pledged to take care of our students and look after them during this challenging time. Like universities throughout the nation, MSU already faced a mental health crisis that the campus violence greatly exacerbated. As faculty and staff at MSU, looking after our students and doing what is best for them is something we have always taken pride in. We have shown repeatedly how much we care about student well-being.
But MSU is plagued by one glaring contradiction to our commitment to look after our students. As profiled in recent national news stories in the New York Times, National Public Radio and the PBS Newshour, MSU is one of a handful of US universities that have entered partnerships with online gambling companies. Signs for Caesars Sportsbook light up the Breslin Center and Spartan Stadium when the Spartans play. MSU has declined to share the terms of the agreement, but according to emails obtained by the New York Times it is worth $8.4 million over five years.
Since online gambling became legal in Michigan in 2019 addiction has spiked, especially among young people betting on sports. Between 1% and 5% of such bettors are likely to become problem gamblers, with devastating consequences including crushing debt, broken relationships, substance abuse and depression. Problem gamblers have the highest suicide rate of any addiction disorder. What’s more, gambling is known as the hidden addiction since online gambling can be done in private on a smartphone, making it easy for problem gamblers to hide their addiction from friends and loved ones as it spirals out of control.
Taking a page from the stereotypical image of a drug pusher, Caesars and the other large online gambling companies lure customers with free bets worth hundreds of dollars. Young men tend to be eager recruits; being knowledgeable about sports leads many of them to assume they will be successful gamblers. Even the American Gaming Association (AGA) has a code of conduct against advertising gambling on university campuses, but MSU has embraced it. The number of MSU students engaging in online gambling is unknown, but given our large student body, the number is probably high. If we create even one problem gambler that will be too many, but probably we are creating hundreds of them.
On March 28 the AGA strengthened the language of its code of conduct to further discourage arrangements such as the one between MSU and Caesars, but it remains to be seen what the impact will be. Caesars is not a member of the AGA, and MSU was already disregarding the previous code of conduct.
MSU has declined to comment for any of the news stories about university partnerships with sports betting companies. Declining to comment is a good idea, because our position is indefensible. A listener’s comment on the recent NPR profile said it best: “What the gambling companies and universities are doing is unconscionable. The business model is designed to addict people. And educational institutions whose priority should be the mental health of students are selling out for profit. My son’s life has been irrevocably damaged by this addiction. And the fact that his university…is complicit is disgusting.” With our partnership with Caesars, this is who MSU is: selling out for profit at the expense of our students’ well-being.
MSU should immediately terminate its agreement with Caesars. We ask Interim President Woodruff and the Board of Trustees to honor our commitment to protect and take care of our students and community.