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With this year’s March Madness season underway, some UNC students believe that online sports betting can bring people together. However, experts have voiced their concerns about betting and its implications on young people since its legalization in North Carolina on March 11.

House Bill 347, signed into law last June by Gov. Roy Cooper, allows individuals at least 21 years old to place bets online for professional, collegiate and amateur sports, as well as horse races.

Jonathan Abramowitz, a professor in the UNC Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, said gambling is an especially unique activity because it operates under a variable-ratio schedule, where participants are rewarded with a win after an unpredictable number of bets placed.

“It's really hard to get out of that because you think that the next win might be right around the corner,” Abramowitz said. “We can very easily have a hard time resisting the urge to continue to do that.”

Abramowitz said that problematic gambling can affect individuals across all age groups, but that those between the ages of 18 and 22 are especially susceptible due to their developing brains and decision-making processes. He said he thinks sports betting will increase during events like March Madness and that feelings of depression, hopelessness and anxiety can result from extensive gambling.

Abramowitz also said students should be made more aware of gambling’s negative effects.

Collegiate sports are important for many Tar Heel fans, like the family of first-year student Kennedy Turner. Turner said she has experienced the connective power of sports, especially because several of relatives play and coach collegiate sports. 

“I go out with friends to watch sports and I bring them to me,” Turner said. “My family every year has a UNC-Duke watch party at my grandma's house, so I was growing up going to those. Wherever I can watch sports, I do it.”

Turner said she has friends who place bets on games. She said bets can impact more than just those that place them — they can also affect players, as their performance can be correlated with the outcome of placed sports bets.

“Gambling, to me, in that aspect, makes me really stressed out — because you're betting on a person's life, on whether or not they're going to accomplish something,” Turner said.

Many college athletes have voiced their concerns about the adverse effects of sports betting, Barstool Sports Old Row social media intern and UNC junior Adam Kessel said. Some athletes have expressed that people are no longer cheering for them and only putting stakes on the game, which Kessel said can impact players negatively.

However, Kessel said the legalization of sports betting also has some positive aspects, including motivation for him and his friends to watch games they normally would not, especially during March Madness.

“It's kind of a funny way that it pulls people together,” Kessel said. “Even in my house with a couple of guys sitting around watching the TV, joking about their different bets, you know, ‘can Oakland get past Kentucky?’ Then that actually happened, and we lost our minds.”

Kessel said sports betting often gets a bad reputation because people are often portrayed in the media as "going off the deep end," leading to negative stereotypes about sports betting as a whole. Kessel said as long as people place bets in moderation, it has the opportunity to create a sense of community and is another way to put a stake in the game.

“They say, ‘Don't bet for your teams because, you know, you're betting with your heart,’” Kessel said. “But betting on UNC to take down Duke in Cameron [Indoor Stadium] is that much more sweet.”

@dailytarheel |

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