Michigan State University Looks to Sever Ties with Caesars

MSU seeks to end its partnership with Caesars Entertainment amid criticism of college-sportsbook relationships and concerns about underage gambling.
Michigan State University Looks to Sever Ties with Caesars
June 07, 2023

If we create even one problem gambler, that will be too many. Michigan State University (MSU) is reportedly in the process of terminating its multi-year partnership with Caesars Entertainment several years early.

The partnership had drawn withering criticism from a range of sources — elected officials, the media, and MSU staff, students, and alumni — since Caesars first announced it in January 2022.

MSU isn’t the only US college to end its relationship with a sportsbook. PointsBet has reportedly terminated similar deals with the University of Colorado and the University of Maryland — partnerships that were first agreed to back in September 2020 and December 2021, respectively. A partnership between Louisiana State University (LSU) and Caesars is also reportedly being scuttled.

MSU Faculty Petition Proves Effective

Partnerships between athletic departments and sportsbooks in the US are ending because of how they have been perceived in the media. A few recent high-profile betting scandals tied to college sports had also brough such partnerships into question.

At MSU, a group of faculty led by community sustainability professor John Kerr started a petition on the Jotform platform requesting that the university formally end the partnership. According to a report by The State News, the petition had garnered more than 150 signatures by early April.

“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,” the petition states. “Young men tend to be eager recruits; being knowledgeable about sports leads many of them to assume they will be successful gamblers.

“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.”

Neither MSU nor Caesars provided details about the partnership when it was first announced in January 2022. The petition by MSU faculty cite reporting by the New York Times that revealed the agreement was a five-year deal worth an estimated $8.4 million. That means the university is looking to end its partnership with Caesars three-and-a-half years early.

Late last month, the Lansing State Journal reported that when asked about the partnership, MSU Athletics Director Alan Haller said, “Initially, it was a good thing, but I don’t think it’s in our best interest moving forward.”

Paul Schager, MSU Executive Associate Athletic Director for External Relations, added, “From a financial perspective, we feel that there will be growth in other sponsorship categories that will take over inventory that was allocated to this particular client,” meaning Caesars.

Neither MSU nor Caesars has officially commented on the partnership or its status. PlayFly Sports, which holds multimedia rights for both MSU and LSU and helped facilitate both partnerships, did not return a message seeking comment.

Groundswell of Opposition to Partnerships

The AGA’s new sports betting code of conduct is a serious effort to protect young people from gambling addiction. The faculty at MSU aren’t the only ones who’ve called for an end to sports betting partnerships between US colleges and universities and sportsbooks.

In late March, the American Gaming Association (AGA) updated its Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering. Among its recommendations, the AGA called for “prohibiting college partnerships that promote, market or advertise sports wagering activity (other than to alumni networks or content focused on responsible gaming initiatives or problem gambling awareness).”

The AGA also called for a ban on the use of the words “risk-free” in advertising for sportsbooks.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a vocal critic of partnerships between US universities and sportsbooks, applauded the move by the AGA. By late March, Blumenthal had already reached out to the AGA and dozens of universities on the issue.

“The AGA’s new sports betting code of conduct is a serious effort to protect young people from gambling addiction,” Blumenthal said in a statement on March 28. “Unfortunately, the benefits of this new code are limited given that not all sports betting companies — in fact, many of the largest ones — aren’t members of the AGA and don’t abide by their standards.”

Caesars is not a member of the AGA, a fact not lost on Blumenthal.

“Caesars’ irresponsible — and on occasion, potentially illegal — marketing to college students through their schools remains entirely unacceptable,” the senator said. “I look forward to learning more from the schools themselves about what outreach they’ve received from sports betting companies, particularly in light of AGA’s new industry standards that make clear that any sports betting partnerships with schools is unacceptable.”

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling (VACPG) helpline at 1-888-532-3500

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