Defenders of college sports betting nearly pull an upset |

Defenders of college sports betting nearly pull an upset

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Backers of legal sports betting nearly pulled off a major upset Thursday, falling just one vote short of derailing a bill strongly opposed by the nation’s casino industry.

In a showdown vote, the Senate Commerce Committee split 10-10 over whether to gut a bill outlawing betting on college sports, which is legal only in Nevada. The tie vote meant the bill survived and now goes to the full Senate.

But the tie also showed that gambling supporters have made significant headway since last year, when only two members of the same Senate committee opposed the bill.

”The fact is, the momentum is clearly on our side,” said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who led opposition to the bill. ”Two months ago we were dead in the water. We had no chance.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in an interview that her initial reaction was to support the proposed ban.

But after studying the issue at the request of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., she concluded the bill unfairly targets one state and could do more harm than good by driving legal gambling underground.

The 10-10 vote occurred on an amendment by Ensign to remove the word ”college” from the bill.

Though the bill applies to all amateur sports, Nevada casinos take relatively few bets on the Olympics and none on high school games. Ensign’s amendment ”would gut the legislation,” said committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.

Supporters of the bill include McCain and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., along with the National Collegiate Athletic Association and a number of big-name college coaches. They say government-sanctioned wagering taints amateur athletics.

Opponents of the bill say the vast majority of sports betting is done outside Nevada, illegally, and that Nevada’s regulated sports-betting industry helps law enforcement detect point-shaving scams. Ensign said Nevada will sue if the bill becomes law.

Thursday’s debate touched on broader gambling issues.

The committee voted down an amendment by Boxer to institute a national minimum gambling age of 21. Many states allow people younger than 21 to buy lottery tickets or bet on horse races.

The committee approved an amendment by Sen. John Breaux, D-La., to block the flow of money to companies that operate virtual casinos on the Internet. Past efforts in Congress to ban Internet gambling have stalled, largely because operators of online casinos are based outside the United States.

Breaux’s approach, first proposed last year by Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, would put the burden on credit-card companies to make sure they are not transmitting money to an Internet gambling operations.

At McCain’s request, however, Breaux agreed the amendment will be jettisoned if another senator challenges whether the Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over Internet gambling.

The proposed ban on college sports betting cleared committees in both houses of Congress last year, but GOP leaders did not schedule a floor vote in either chamber. McCain has indicated he may try to offer the ban as an amendment during next week’s debate on education bills.

”I intend to get it to the floor one way or another,” McCain said.

The bill is S. 718.

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