Some students have run up gambling debts of £10,000 or more, a Gambling Commission director has told the Victoria Derbyshire programme.
Ben Haden said his organisation was concerned about the impact gambling was having on undergraduates.
Former student Matt Zarb-Cousin told the BBC: “One day I lost about £2,500 just on [gambling] machines. I came very close to taking my own life.”
The Association of British Bookmakers declined to comment on the findings.
Mr Haden added: “Clearly with the raft of new students heading to uni at this time of year we should do more for the student population.”
The Gambling Commission is calling for more advice and guidance to help prevent students from becoming hooked.
It wants universities to provide the same level of information and support about the risks from gambling as they do for drugs, alcohol and safe sex.
A government review due this autumn will look at fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) – now common on high streets – and children’s access to gambling.
The Commission appointed research agency YouthSight to conduct an online survey of 1,000 people.
The results suggested that three out of five students had gambled in the four weeks before they responded to the August survey.
If the results were reflected across the UK, the Gambling Commission said that just over 100,000 students may be in some form of gambling debt.
Furthermore, one in eight undergraduates surveyed said they had missed lectures or seminars because of gambling.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency said there were 1.7 million undergraduates in the UK in 2016.
The Victoria Derbyshire programme found one of the UK’s biggest casino brands, Grosvenor Casinos, runs a student poker league and offers free drinks and student discounts at casinos.
A spokeswoman for Grosvenor Casinos said it takes issues relating to problem gambling very seriously.
She added: “We would never encourage anyone to use casinos or gambling as a source of income or as a way of escaping debt.”
Meanwhile, Gala Bingo targets students by setting up stalls at some freshers’ fairs at universities.
This type of marketing is legal and 18-year-olds are allowed to gamble, but anti-gambling groups want universities to clamp down on it.
Mr Zarb-Cousin, who now works for Fairer Gambling, which campaigns over gambling legislation, said: “I was at university and I maxed out numerous overdrafts, student loans.
“All the money I could get my hands on went into the machines [fixed odds betting terminals]. One day I lost about £2,500 just on the machines.
“I came very close to taking my own life at that point. I didn’t really see a way out.”
He added: “I think it’s really important that universities are aware of the problem within their own university, like how many of their students are addicted and aware of how big a problem it is, and therefore what’s needed to address it.”
A 24-year-old, who got into gambling at university, said: “It went from spending a few days after coming home from lectures and going on to my laptop to suddenly saying no to going out with friends, maybe saying no to going to uni.
“I think you can be very vulnerable.
“I’d never budgeted before and money was a whole new concept to me.”
Watch the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.