Easy technology and alumni connections open opportunities for sports betting among high schoolers

By Ella Russell and Ethan Lulkin

“I got hooked. I got put on a website, put money into it, and won. Then I kept doing it”.

These are the steps that led senior Dylan Dembs to fixate on sports betting, a way of gambling on professional or college level sports through websites or apps.

This type of gambling has become a new and addictive trend among high schoolers.

“I started betting with my dad in fourth grade. We would bet against each other on some sports games that were on TV. He would be like ‘Hey do you want to bet on this game’, and I would be like ‘Yeah, I'll take 25 dollars on the Lakers to beat the Knicks.’ That was my first experience with gambling,” Dembs said.

For Dembs, betting has intensified since he was ten. Bets have expanded from his family room to websites such as Ubet, FanDuel, ESPN, DraftKings, and bookies. The simplicity of these forums attract customers, especially high schoolers.

To see how large this trend is we polled seventy eight random Groves senior and junior males. The results showed that 92.3% have gambled in some form and 86.4% had bet on sports. One of the participants, senior Michael Potocsky, kicked off his betting career with a common fantasy football league.

“DraftKings Daily Fantasy got me started. It's an app that you can play fantasy football, basketball and more on. You make line ups for games every single day. I started betting on fantasy football in Elementary school and kept getting better and expanded to more sports,” Potocsky said.

Now, Potocsky typically finds himself betting on American football and basketball, Mongolian soccer, Korean and American baseball, and UFC. Apps such as Venmo and PayPal make betting easy and accessible.

“It’s just so easy now. Instead of placing bets at a casino, which we can’t, I can play blackjack or bet on sports from my phone and lose a million dollars. Instead of walking into a casino, where really good people are around you, I could just stay in my bed and gamble a quick 100 dollars and either win or lose it. Why would I not take the easier version?” Dembs said. “Also, it’s easy to use Venmo to quickly pay someone. To place a bet you just Venmo the bookie, and it’s set.”

Dembs mentioned using a bookie and Venmo to place a bet. Since Groves students are underage and can’t place their own bets, they have to rely on a bookie to do it for them. While using a bookie may seem like a complicated process, it has become easier than ever.

“Using a bookie feels as if you are betting with your friends. One of your friends, the bookie, owns a website which you bet on. They are the ones who collect and pay you. You're essentially just paying someone or taking money from them. All you have to do is place a bet on the website, then Venmo the bookie if you lose. It’s really easy,” Potocsky said. “My first bookie was a Groves alumni, my friend’s brother actually. He pretty much got all of my friend group to start betting through him.”

Many Groves alumni come back to recruit their younger friends or their sibling’s friends. Some have a book for their fraternity and some just do it as a business venture.

“He [Potocsky’s bookie] probably makes thousands of dollars a week. He’s betting and we’re losing. Every time we lose, he wins,” Dembs said.

These Groves alumni come with the intention of hooking more people into betting. They are used as a bookie when high schoolers place bets on a website such as Ubet. The process makes it easy to bet on almost any sport.

Video by Dylan Dembs

Senior Dylan Dembs shows the simplicity of placing a bet on April 12. Dembs put down $10 in hopes of winning $9 that the Los Angeles Lakers would win to the New York Knicks. Using Ubet it took Dembs 22 seconds to put in his bet. The ability to place a bet in such a timely manner is one reason why sports betting is becoming so addictive.

“On websites that my friends and I use, such as Ubet, there are max bets of $500 a week. You get 500 credits to spend each week, meaning the website only allows you to lose a maximum of $500. So if you make $300, you can bet $800 for that week,” Potocsky said. “The 500 credit rule is nice because it keeps people in check, but my favorite part about these websites is that you can bet on almost any sport. They have basketball and football, but also sometimes they have darts, Aussie rules football, Korean baseball, or even league of legends.”

Such a wide variety of sports can be tempting to bet on. Potocsky learned this all too well in one of his first times betting on a Mongolian Soccer game.

“Sophomore year was my first time betting. I was terrible at it, and I placed a live bet on the 95th minute of a Mongolian soccer game,” Potocsky said.

Mongolian soccer is one of the more obscure sports a student can bet on. Potocsky didn’t know anything about the teams, any players in the league, but still decided to gamble a large amount of money.

“The game had one minute left of extra time. I bet that a goal would not be scored in the final minute, like -3000 odds. It was near impossible for it to actually happen. I put $400 to win $40, some crazy line, and then the impossible happened. The last 10 seconds of the game, someone scored. I just didn’t know what to do,” Potocsky said.

Potocsky’s mind started to scramble as he just lost $400 on one of his first bets on a sport he knew nothing about.

“I was scared as hell because I didn’t really have any money. I had to transfer it out of my savings account. When my dad asked about it, I told him I was investing in something,” Potocsky said.

An event like that could scare anyone away from betting. Potocsky felt he was in over his head; he knew he should stop betting, especially after losing $400 in thirty seconds.

“I stopped betting for about 6 months or so... until I got addicted again,” Potocsky said.

Advancements in technology and having a wide variety of sports to bet turn students into returning customers. Furthermore, bookies have their own strategies to hook young bettors. One way is through ‘free plays’; bookies give their bettors a free amount of credits to spend on betting. They give students free plays when they join their book, before a big game, or if they help recommend a friend to join their book.

While gambling isn’t heroin, Dembs alludes to the fact that betting can seem just as addictive as this illegal substance.

“These books, they give you a free bet. There seems to be no risk, and, if you win you’re pumped; then you start putting your own money in, and you start losing,” Dembs said. “It’s like drug dealing. They give you these free plays so you keep betting. Here’s an example, if you’re a heroin addict and you go to a dealer and they say, ‘I’ll give you heroin for free the first time.’ You are going to be stoked, but you can easily get hooked from the first time or will want to try it again, so chances are you will go back and buy more.”

Using free plays, bookies draw sports fans in to get a taste of betting. People think they can take advantage of the bookies but find out it usually does not work that way. Senior Alex Shapero experienced this first hand.

“Before the Super Bowl, I knew two bookies giving out lots of free plays. They gave out $20 to bet on the Super Bowl plus another promo if you referred someone to join their book. I thought I cheated the system and got $125 worth of free bets by referring a bunch of people and getting the good Super Bowl promos,” Shapero said. “I had a line of bets on the Super Bowl that I was pretty confident in, but still a little risky since I wasn’t losing any money. I ended up winning $4.”

The bookies take a small risk when giving out free plays, but usually end up gaining a large reward: a repeating customer. In this case they gained several new bettors and only lost $4. Whereas a bettor might take a high risk betting $400 on a Mongolian soccer game with the reward only being $40. The odds are often not in favor for the bettors, and the only way to combat this is stopping.

According to Potocsky, the attractions to betting outshine the negatives. Betting opens an opportunity to make quick money and provides hours of entertainment.

“I had a six leg parlay in January. It got to the last game and I had to decide if I wanted to hedge my parlay and make a decent amount, or say screw it and let the last game finish for a sweet payday,” Potocsky said.

Photo by Michael Potocsky

Senior Michael Potocsky places a 6 leg parlay bet. This means he needs six individual bets to be successful in order to win. The more bets you have to get right, the more difficult it is to win and the odds increase. Since Potocsky chose six various bets, the odds increased to +2350, and he had the chance to win $352.

Hedging is betting against an original bet as a safety measure. This way if they lose, the bettor will still make some money. Potocsky had the option to hedge the last leg of his parlay, since every other leg was successful. He opted to stick with his original bet, letting it all come down to the Michigan State vs Nebraska game on January 2. Michigan State was favored to win by 6 ½ points and was winning by 5 points with 15 seconds left in the game.

“I was so relieved when Michigan State got fouled. With so few seconds, they had an easy chance to make it a 7-point win. They just had to make both free throws, and I would have covered the line, but, of course, he missed the first free throw. I was pissed,” Potocsky said. “I felt all that money just disappear. MSU was going to win by 6 and I would lose the possible $352 dollars. I was ready to turn off the tv when somehow Michigan State got the ball back and was fouled again! The Michigan State player made it, and I was in shock. I won $352 from only a $15 bet.”

This is just one of the many success stories Potocsky tells. Potocsky started his sports betting career with a $400 loss, but when he decided to come back, he took sports betting more seriously.

“I wanted to bet more, and I couldn’t go back to just placing stupid, uninformed bets. I started doing my research and actually studying it,” Potocsky said. “I look at analytics and read analysis of all the games. I look at the key statistics. Who’s playing, who’s hurt, how many points do they usually score. It’s all averages and percentages. Looking at what usually happens and comparing it to the likelihood it could happen this time.”

With his new strategy he started to find success, a lot of success.

“I studied for about one and half hours per day to place all my bets. It seemed to work because currently I’ve made about $4,200. That’s from betting mainly college basketball and football, professional football and basketball, and sometimes I would go back to a weird sport like Korean baseball or League of Legends,” Potocsky said.

Aside from money, Potocsky experiences another positive to sports betting.

“I’ve always liked watching sports but betting allows me to always have a team to root for. If I have a bet placed on a game where I'm not biased to either team, it makes the game more entertaining because I am watching the game to see if my bet wins,” Potocsky said. “I throw ten dollars on a game to make myself happy for the night. It’s like renting a movie.”

Sports betting allows Potocsky to root for teams that he used to not care or know much about. Dembs shared the same view on this upside to sport betting.

“It makes watching the game more exciting. You’re more invested and every play is more thrilling because you have money on the line,” Dembs said. “You can put a 5 dollar bet on a game at 10:30pm and now you have something to do until 12am. Instead of laying in your bed on your phone you have a team to cheer for.”

Dembs’ friend group has found another way to pass time and gamble their money. During Michigan’s first shutdown in March of 2020, Dembs and his friends picked up the hobby of online poker. Online poker allowed for a safe way to keep in touch with friends, and win some cash. When the quarantine restriction was lifted, the boys started meeting up to play real poker games.

“Someone texted in a group chat asking for plans. Everyone wanted to get out of the house and do something new. My friend Jack Green had some poker chips at his house so we thought, why not play poker? Since we played online during quarantine, we had picked up the basic skills. We all met up at Jacks, his mom cooked us food, and we had a good time playing poker,” Dembs said.

The seniors continued to meet throughout the summer for poker and snacks. Once the school year picked up, poker turned into a weekend event. Now, the boys try to meet every other weekend for a poker night.

Photo by Ella Russell

This pool table is home to all the action that happens during Dylan Dembs and Michael Potocsky’s poker nights. The senior boys and ten of their friends meet up a few times a month for what they call ‘poker night’. During poker night, buy-ins typically range from $20-$50.

“Poker nights have become a hobby for sure. Once or twice we even dressed up and wore suits. However, a typical poker night is usually just some Jet's Pizza, snacks, and cards. Our buy-ins range from $20-$100 depending on how we're feeling and how many people are playing. Someone usually goes up big, at least one person loses a lot and buys back in and sometimes loses more. We go for a while until we're bored or too many people are out of money,” Dembs said.

Dembs mentioned that many people leave poker night empty handed. The question arises, why do the high schooler boys continue to participate in bi-weekly poker nights if they find themselves losing? Gambling is addictive. People are always approaching the next bet with hopes to win once again.

Now with so many different forms of gambling available, it is even easier to fall into it’s addictive pattern. From our poll, 69% of the people surveyed had bet on fantasy football/basketball/etc, 61% gambled on themselves when playing sports, and 15% said they had bought lottery tickets or scratch offs. A student can bet on endless sports, games, and players. They can be more conservative with their money like the 15% who have bet less than $100; or they can follow the majority, 70% of kids, who have gambled somewhere between $100- $1,000. 15% have even gambled over $1,000. Betting is everywhere for high schoolers, and is the easiest it has ever been to participate.

Each person surveyed that has placed a sports bet said they plan to continue betting. According to the Mayoclinic.org site, gambling stimulates the brain's reward system, similar to how drugs or alcohol do, leading to addiction. When children are introduced to betting at a young age, it is easier for them to get hooked. Gambling is likely to be seen in the long term future of these high schoolers.

“I bet because there is a chance of me winning,” Dembs said. “I’ll take the odds. I enjoy the thrill that I could possibly win. I can make back my losses by betting again.”

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