Online gambling pools turn students into ‘Facebookies’

MEDFORD, Mass. (U-WIRE) — Students, do you hear that far-off rumble? It’s March Madness, and while Tufts University may not have a team in the final four, students are still rooting and booing — and some are betting on the games.

For many students, the idea of an office pool is probably familiar. But with the explosion of online social networking, NCAA tournament pools have spread over the Internet. For the second time, has a March Madness pool feature for registered users.

According to a Facebook press release, the purpose of the pool feature fits with the rest of the social networking site’s mission: “The Men’s College Basketball Tournament on Facebook gives users the ability to leverage their social network(s) in creating pools and provides a more intimate and familiar online environment to compete with friends,” the press release said.

Though sports gambling is illegal in most of the United States, the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, Inc., estimates that over $4 billion will be spent on March Madness betting this year, $1.3 billion of which is expected to be spent online.

And Jumbos are no exception. According to senior Julie Nogee, who started a pool with her friends this year, March Madness pools are old hat.

“My mom always had pools with people in her division at work, so she always used to let me and my brother enter,” Nogee said. “I liked picking out teams and seeing how they did.”

Nogee said she started this year’s pool with her friends because she knew it would be fun — and because Facebook made it easy.

“It’s fun if you’re in an organization all ready to distribute brackets and tally up scores,” she said. “It’s definitely made easier by Facebook because you don’t need someone to organize it.”

While Nogee and friends are not paying money in their pool, others are. “Some people I know put money in — it’s five bucks to enter,” Nogee said.

Jeanne Haley, Alcohol and Drug Treatment Specialist at Health Services, explained that Jumbos’ constant connectedness makes online betting easier.

“College students are on the computer and Internet so much, and use electronic technology so frequently to communicate and get information,” she said in an e-mail to the Daily. “It makes it more accessible and familiar to get into computer or online gambling/gaming.”

Some Tufts students do develop gambling problems, but the level is similar to other small, liberal arts schools on the East coast, according to Haley.

While different studies have found different rates of gambling issues among college students in comparison to the general population, Haley said, the social acceptance and ease of access to betting in a college environment may make it easier to develop an addiction.

“(Card games like poker) for many people are fun and social, but again, some people get emotionally caught up and thrive on the thrill of the gamble,” Haley said. “I think any of the gambling that goes on online may seem less real or consequential to people and again, they can get in over their heads pretty quickly.”

Facebook’s press release touted the ease with which students can participate in their prize pool, which will hand out a $25,000 prize to its winner: “Anyone with a Facebook account can enter a bracket. After filling out the bracket, the user is automatically entered into a Facebook-wide pool, making them eligible to win prizes. The user can also create and participate in smaller pools. There is no extra registration process necessary.”

Without having to do much, anyone on Facebook can start betting. While the Facebook-wide pool does not require betting money, the mere establishment of pools among friends may suggest a general laissez-faire attitude toward gambling to some.

But Nogee said her pool does not mean that she and her friends will be spending a dime during March Madness: “This isn’t really gambling per se,” she said. “This is just pure, ‘Who knows the least about basketball?'”

“For example, our leader doesn’t have any idea about what it’s about,” she added. “It’s fun to see people just guessing and getting it right.”