All in on Iowa: A look into the student-athlete gambling investigation

Six current and former Iowa athletes and two student managers have been charged.
Illustration by Bri Brown.
Illustration by Bri Brown.

What charges are current, former UI students facing?


Out of the eight individuals charged, former guard Ahron Ulis and student manager Evan Schuster of the basketball team are accused of wagering the most money at $34,800 and $15,800, respectively. 

According to criminal complaints, Ulis reportedly wagered 1,850 bets — 740 of them while he was underage. Although he transferred to Nebraska last spring, he allegedly bet on one UI sporting event. 

Schuster, a current UI senior, reportedly wagered over 2,000 bets, a majority of those placed while he was underaged. According to complaints, Schuster placed 10 bets on Iowa men’s basketball games — some while underage — while on the basketball team. 

The charge is labeled as an aggravated misdemeanor but could be punishable by a maximum sentence of two years in prison if convicted.


Out of all UI athletic teams affected by the investigation, coach Kirk Ferentz’s football team had the most current and former players charged. 

UI placekicker Aaron Blom and former wide receiver Arland Bruce IV are accused of betting over $4,000 on 170 and 132 wagers respectively, before the players were 21.

Using the name “Vincent Bruce,” Bruce allegedly made 12 bets on Iowa football games, six during the 2021-22 season and six during the 2022-23 season, per the affidavit.

Bruce allegedly bet the “under total points” option for games against Northwestern and Kentucky, according to the complaint, which means he wagered money on teams scoring less than the estimated total. Bruce played in the Northwestern game, recording two receptions for 19 yards. By the time Iowa played Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, Bruce had already entered the transfer portal. 

Blom, Iowa’s second-string kicker and punter last season, allegedly wagered on eight Iowa sporting events, including a lone football game in 2021 in which Blom was the backup kicker and did not appear in the contest. 

Junior walk-on wide receiver Jack Johnson and Hawkeye football graduate assistant Owen O’Brien, are accused of betting 380 and 350 bets while they were underage, toatling $1,800 and $3,047 respectively. 

Johnson allegedly bet on 15 Iowa sporting events.

O’Brien is accused of placing 11 wagers on Iowa sporting events, including three football events during the 2022 season while he was on staff. O’Brien is not listed on the Iowa football coaching staff in this or last season’s roster. 

Both Johnson and O’Brien allegedly “engaged in a scheme” with their mothers to place bets under their names before they were of age. 

Harry “Reggie” Bracy played three years at Iowa as a defensive back before transferring to Troy during this past offseason. According to the complaint, Bracy allegedly made 66 bets totaling $715 using the same DraftKings account as Bruce, before he was 21. He also allegedly wagered on two games during the 2022-23 season. 

All five individuals are charged with one count of tampering with records related to the investigation. The charge is labeled as an aggravated misdemeanor but could be punishable by a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine ranging from $855 to $8,540 if convicted. 

The student-athletes convicted could also face a permanent loss of athletic eligibility, per NCAA regulations that prohibit athletes from betting on their own sporting events.


Former catcher Gehrig Christensen is the sole baseball player being accused of placing 559 online wagers totaling over $2,400, all of which were placed before he turned 21. 

Christensen, who retired from baseball in a June 8 Instagram post, allegedly placed over 559 underage bets, 23 of which involved Iowa sports. He is charged with one count of tampering with records related to the investigation and is punishable by a maximum sentence of two years in prison if convicted.

Despite being banned for most of the country’s existence, sports betting is becoming mainstream in the United States.

Legalized sports betting in some states, including Iowa, has affected nearly all parties involved in the sports landscape. Now, one group of individuals who place wagers are facing legal consequences: athletes. 

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Committee announced in May that it started an investigation into online sports gambling by athletes at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. 

The NCAA prohibits student-athletes from participating in any gambling activity that involves intercollegiate or professional athletics. Violation of NCAA rules can result in ineligibility for the student-athlete.

The UI later released information that over 100 individuals close to UI athletics had been flagged for sports betting, including 26 current student-athletes across the following teams:

  • Football
  • Baseball
  • Men’s basketball
  • Men’s track and field
  • Men’s wrestling 

ISU announced 15 student-athletes across football, wrestling, and track & field were also involved in the investigation.

In August, charges were released against student-athletes from both institutions. 

An estimated $1.8 billion was spent advertising online gambling in the U.S. in 2022, up nearly 70 percent in just one year. Sportsbooks generated $6.56 billion in 2022, increasing by 65 percent compared to 2021.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation charged six current and former Iowa student athletes in a probe into sports wagering, including Aaron Blom, Jack Johnson, Reggie Bracy, Arland Bruce IV, Gehrig Christensen, and Ahron Ulis.

Blom and Johnson were both on the Hawkeyes roster as of August. Bruce and Bracy transferred to Oklahoma State and Troy in January. Ulis transferred to Nebraska in May. 

Four football players from ISU have also been charged. 

Each player was charged with one count of tampering with evidence related to the investigation. Student managers Owen O’Brien and Evan Schuster were charged with the same count.

What’s next for the sports betting investigation 

The NCAA handling the implications of student-athletes sports betting is fairly new. 

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of New Jersey in the case of  Murphy v. NCAA, effectively overturning a 1992 law that made it illegal for states to enact sports betting. The ruling allowed states to legalize and regulate sports betting, and now over 34 states and Washington D.C. have legalized some form of sports betting.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill in 2019 legalizing sports betting in the state. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission oversees the regulation of casinos and gambling activities in Iowa.

Just two years after the Supreme Court’s decision, more than $20 million in bets  were placed at legal U.S. sportsbooks. 

“There’s definitely a heightened awareness of concern of the potential for issues given that [sports betting] is so much more accessible now … I can’t think of any sports betting cases prior to 2018,” said Daniel Matheson, UI sports law professor, and former associate director of enforcement for the NCAA. 

Matheson said the NCAA has representatives who work with schools and student-athletes to help educate them about the rules associated with gambling, but he said it comes down to how each school emphasizes this education to athletes and whether or not they comply with it.

“Part of the role of an athletics compliance officer is to educate student-athletes, coaches, and administrators on what the rules are,” Matheson said. “That’s how the awareness of gambling rules is established, and it’s really up to each on how they deliver that.”

He said an effective rules compliance system at a school should be reinforced at different times, in different modes, and by different officials.

“It doesn’t solely come down to a compliance officer,” Matheson said. “It could be a coach talking to their team or an athletic director talking to one of these student-athletes.” 

Student-athletes are not completely prohibited from betting on all sporting events, Matheson said. If a student-athlete is of legal age, they can bet on events like the Indianapolis 500, the Kentucky Derby, or a UFC fight because the NCAA does not sponsor championships for these events, he said. 

Iowa football head coach Kirk Ferentz said to media in August that he finds it “highly unusual” that Iowa and Iowa State are the only two universities in the NCAA under investigation for sports gambling.

“I can’t imagine these are the only two universities that have students gamble,” Ferentz said.

As to why Iowa and ISU seem to be the only major Division 1 schools under investigation for sports betting, Matheson said there is a simple explanation.

“The state gaming commission uncovered this information through their own due diligence and then alerted the two schools about this information, and as NCAA members, they had an investigation to fully investigate and report to the NCAA,”  he said. 

Matheson said if other schools were to become subjects of a similar investigation, it would be up to each individual state’s gaming commission. 

“There’s no singling out of Iowa [schools],” he said. “If the state gaming commission of Nevada or New Jersey uncovers information like this and it’s transmitted to the schools, then those schools will have the same issues.” 

Looking ahead

This summer, the NCAA released updated guidelines with penalties ranging from required sports wagering education to permanent loss of eligibility. 

“The new penalty structure ranges from the education on sports betting up to the potential permanent loss of college eligibility,” Matheson said. “There’s a lot of room in between for partial suspensions or loss of eligibility … It really depends on what the nature of the violations were.” 

Matheson said the most serious penalties are for athletes who bet on their own team and teams at your school.

“That could even involve just telling your roommate, ‘so-and-so is injured — you should bet the under on this game,’” he said. “There’s all sorts of ways that the sharing of information can influence betting.”

Zach Stein, a UI fourth-year student, considers himself a casual sports better. 

“I’ve really only done a handful of bets with my friends. I mainly just give advice to people when determining matchups,” he said

He doesn’t see issues with legal-aged fans making bets on their favorite teams, but when athletes place bets it’s different. 

“It’s a huge problem if you are betting against the team that you play for because you can easily throw the match in an attempt to make your own profit,” he said.

He said permanent eligibility loss would be an excessive punishment for players who weren’t betting on their own teams. 

The NCAA also suspended Iowa football defensive tackle Noah Shannon for the season after admitting to gambling in August. Shannon has not been criminally charged and was at least 21 years old, Iowa’s legal gambling age, when he bet.

Ferentz said at a media availability that he thought the punishment was harsh. 

“The guy’s 23 years old,” Ferentz said. “He’s given his heart and soul and some body parts to the program too. I just like to think he’d be allowed to finish out his career.” 

Stein said the student-athletes should have abided by NCAA rules, but said there should be more focus on the sports-betting platforms themselves so there are greater background checks to confirm the person’s identity. 

“I’m not sure who to blame entirely, but I think that losing your entire scholarship is way overkill compared to other things athletes get away with and continue to play,” Stein said.

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