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Senate panel votes to ban gambling on amateur sports

WASHINGTON (BP)–A Senate committee has given the go-ahead to legislation that would prohibit gambling on Olympic, college and high school sports.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved by voice vote April 13 the Amateur Sports Integrity Act, S. 2340. The bill would prohibit any government entity from sponsoring, operating, advertising, promoting, licensing or authorizing any type of gambling, including lotteries and sweepstakes, on amateur sports.

“Legalized gambling on kids is wrong,” said Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., the bill’s chief sponsor, in a written release. “They should not be reduced to a point spread and a spectacle for wagering. By closing the Las Vegas loophole and banning college sports gambling completely, we will end a practice that has exposed college athletes to unwarranted pressure, bribery and corruption.”

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has expressed support for the ban.

The impact of the bill would be felt most notably in Nevada, the only state where gambling on college sports is permitted. Wagering is not allowed in Nevada, however, on contests involving in-state schools.

Sen. Richard Bryan, D.-Nev., decried the bill, as did the American Gaming Association, the lobbying organization for the country’s leading commercial casinos. Bryan called the committee’s failure to approve some amendments he offered “hypocrisy,” according to The Washington Times.

The panel rejected a Bryan amendment that would have established the national minimum age for gambling at 21 years of age.

The committee approved a Bryan amendment to require colleges to report information and to develop enforcement policies on illegal gambling, as well as one to eliminate promotional sweepstakes and giveaways based on amateur sports events.

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which issued a report last June, recommended bans on amateur sports gambling and under-21 betting.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association and other amateur sports organizations are strongly pushing the ban. The NCAA forbids athletes at its member schools from placing any kind of bet on college or pro sports and from giving information to anyone who bets on a sports event. It has been shaken by a series of gambling scandals at NCAA schools in the 1990s, including point-shaving incidents in Arizona State basketball and Northwestern basketball and football. Both scandals involved heavy, legal betting at Nevada sports books, according to the NCAA.

About $2.3 billion was bet last year in Nevada sports books, with one-third of that amount wagered on college sports, according to the NCAA.

The ban’s sponsors hope the bill’s presence in Congress will have two additional effects: 1) That states will appeal to the Nevada Gaming Control Board to not allow gambling on college athletics in their borders and 2) that point spreads on college games will not be published in newspapers. Most major newspapers publish the point spreads of college football and basketball games. The Washington Post is an exception.

The bill also directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology to do research on the use of performance-enhancing drugs by amateur athletes and on the methods of detecting their use.