Proposed bill could end wagering on college sports

Members of the U.S. Senate introduced a bill Tuesday to ban gambling on amateur sports, including college games, in an attempt to protect athletes and athletics.

The proposed legislation would end betting on high school, college and Olympic sporting events. Nevada is the only state where betting on these events occurs.

The sponsors of the bill and their supporters – the biggest being the National Collegiate Athletic Association – said they are not so much targeting gambling as they are trying to maintain the integrity of amateur athletes and amateur sports.

Sports gambling has become a black eye on too many of our colleges and universities, said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), one of the nine Senate co-sponsors of the bill. We should not wait for another point-shaving scandal to act.

Brownback cited a rash of scandals in college sports – including cases involving Northwestern University football and men’s basketball and Arizona State University men’s basketball teams – as a disturbing trend in amateur athletics.

He said there has been an increase in the number of point-shaving cases discovered as the amount wagered on college sports increased – hitting a high of about $1 billion in 1997.

The new bill comes in response to a report released last year by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which recommended the ban.

Sports wagering threatens the integrity of sports, according to the report. It puts student athletes in a vulnerable position, it can serve as gateway behavior for adolescent gamblers, and it can devastate individuals and careers.

The report found 45 percent of male collegiate football and basketball players have bet on sporting events, while 5 percent have provided inside information for gambling purposes, bet on a game in which they participated or accepted money for performing poorly in a game.

This legislation is about protecting the magic, the purity, the integrity of teenagers competing in a sport, said Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.), a co-sponsor of a similar House bill expected be introduced this month.

Roemer said the bill is not intended to target de minimis betting – office pools or small parking-lot bets. Rather, he said the bill aims to end large-scale betting, which he and other supporters of the bill said leads to temptation on the part of college athletes.

The possibility to control the outcome (of a college sporting event) is an ever-present threat, said NCAA President Cedric Dempsey.

He said the NCAA recruited a number of high-profile coaches, including Pennsylvania State University football Coach Joe Paterno and former University of North Carolina men’s basketball Coach Dean Smith, to help campaign for the legislation.

The supporters of the legislation also have enlisted the help of Kevin Pendergast, a former kicker for the Notre Dame football team who conspired with Northwestern basketball players in a point-shaving scheme in 1995. He said eliminating legalized gambling on college sports would take away one more temptation and pressure on college athletes.

The bill is expected to face opposition in Congress, especially from the Nevada delegation.

Banning legal wagering on college sports is ill-conceived and will only lead to more illegal betting, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday in a press release. Instead of addressing the core problem, this bill unfairly targets an industry in Nevada, which is tightly regulated and strictly controlled.

In response to the proposed bill, Reid will introduce his own legislation that would direct the Department of Justice to investigate illegal gambling on college sporting events and how it might be curtailed.

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