Senators reopen debate on banning bets on college sports |

Senators reopen debate on banning bets on college sports


WASHINGTON (AP) – Senators reopened work Thursday on a bill to ban betting on college sports, a proposal vigorously opposed by the casino industry as misguided and unfairly targeted at Nevada, the only state that allows such wagering.

Committees in both houses of Congress approved the legislation last year, but Republican leaders never posted the legislation for a floor vote in either chamber.

Some supporters of the bill said they believe it was buried by casino industry campaign contributions, a contention repeated Thursday by Rep. Lindsey Graham, one of the witnesses before the Senate Commerce Committee.

”I am just about ashamed of Congress on this issue,” said Graham, R-S.C.

Though the legislation now begins from scratch in the 107th Congress, the battle lines remain largely unchanged.

The leading advocates are Republican Sens. John McCain, chairman of the commerce committee, and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., along with Graham and Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind. They are backed by the NCAA and numerous big-name college sports coaches.

Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., who coached Nebraska’s football team before joining Congress, testified that gambling changes the emphasis of sports from ”excellence and skill to point spreads and monetary gain.”

The chief opponents are Nevada lawmakers who say the real problem is illegal gambling that occurs in all 50 states. They support competing legislation that would create a task force to study illegal gambling on amateur sports, increase penalties for illegal gambling and require universities to implement antigambling programs.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., warned that a successful court challenge to the proposed legislation could also topple a 1992 law that, for practical purposes, banned sports gambling in the other 49 states.

The result, Ensign said, would be more legal gambling rather than less.

”I bet you (the ban) would withstand scrutiny,” replied Graham.

”I’d make you a bet on that,” countered Ensign.

The casino industry and its boosters insist that legal wagering in Nevada accounts for less than 2 percent of all betting on college sports. They say Nevada’s strictly regulated casinos help law enforcement detect suspicious betting patterns caused by point-shaving scams.

Danny Sheridan, a sports analyst and oddsmaker for USA Today, told the committee that removing Nevada casinos from sports betting would be like taking the Securities and Exchange Commission away from Wall Street.

”If this bill passes, you will make fixing college football and baseball games very easy,” he said. ”There will be no fear of being caught.”

Howard J. Shaffer, director of the Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions, said a ban on amateur sports betting could ”stimulate an underground market for sports-related gambling.”

But supporters of the ban said warnings about college sports wagering will continue to sound hollow until the practice is illegal in all 50 states.

”It has to start somewhere,” said Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams.

The two sides also disagreed on whether newspapers would respond to a ban by ceasing publication of point spreads on college games.

The Newspaper Association of America predicts newspapers will continue the practice, ”since point spreads appear to be useful, if not valuable, to newspaper readers who have no intention of betting on games.”

But Tracy Dodds Hurd, associate sports editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, told the committee she believes many newspaper editors would drop the spreads on grounds the information could ”only be used illegally.”

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