Both Sides of College Betting Issue Prepare for Battle

4 May 2001
Proponents of a bill that would outlaw betting on all amateur sporting events in Nevada, including college and Olympic events, have set their offense in motion and now wait to see if they can win.

The latest score came Thursday when the Senate Commerce Committee passed by voice vote the Amateur Sports Integrity Act, S. 718, but the game is far from over according to proponents of the bill.

Supporters may have gotten the bill out of committee but those opposed to such a ban can claim a small victory in knowing how close they came to defeating the bill while it was still in committee.

In a showdown vote, the 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 bill passed out of committee today had six amendments added to it, many relating indirectly to college betting. The amendments "would gut the legislation," said committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.

The bill makes it illegal for a state to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license or authorize any type of gambling on amateur sports, including lotteries and sweepstakes, or for an individual to engage in these activities under state authority. Gambling on amateur sports is illegal everywhere except Nevada. It also directs NIST to develop a grant program to fund educational substance abuse prevention and intervention programs.

Those amendments could weight the bill down before the entire Senate. Even then, if the Senate passes the bill, chances of it passing the House remain unclear.

"We feel this is an issue to be decided by the states and not the federal government," said a spokesperson with Sen. Ted Stevens', R-Alaska, office.

Stevens had joined Nevada Senators and other gaming officials in being outspoken against the bill.

Stevens was unavailable for the committee vote yesterday morning since budget meetings with Secretary of State Collin Powell set precedence. His office did try to send a written vote of his opposition into the Commerce Committee meeting room. The vote wasn’t received in time, giving Committee Chairmen McCain and his bill a small victory.

A spokesperson at Stevens’ office didn’t want to speculate on whether the move was done intentionally to keep McCain’s bill as the lead piece of legislation.

"I don’t want to speculate if it was done intentional or not, but I do know that no one was expecting the vote to happen as quickly as it did," the spokesperson said. "We tried to get his (Stevens) vote over to the committee as fast as we could. The meeting with Secretary Powell was our main priority this morning."

Among the amendments added to the bill, which now moves the full Senate, are:

  • Senator John Ensign's, R-Nev., amendment, adopted by voice vote, would require institutions of higher education to monitor students’ gambling on amateur sports over wire communications.
  • Senator Ensign's amendment, adopted by voice vote, would provide for expedited court review.
  • Senator John Breaux's, D-La., first amendment, adopted by voice vote, would require that colleges that submit annual reports on criminal offenses submit information on the occurrence of illegal gambling, including Internet gambling; require colleges that submit annual report on alcohol to submit a statement of policy regarding underage and other illegal gambling activity; and require the attorney general, in consultation with the secretary of education, to review the policies, procedures and practices of colleges with respect to crimes and security related directly or indirectly to illegal gambling.
  • Senator Breaux's second amendment, adopted by voice vote, would allow for office pools.
  • Senator Breaux's third amendment, adopted by voice vote, would establish criminal penalties and means for U.S. and state attorneys general to enjoin a financial institution from collecting on credit card debt if they know the debt was incurred by someone gambling illegally over the Internet. Breaux's approach, a policy 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 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.
  • Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, offered a second-degree amendment to Breaux’s amendment that was adopted by voice vote to clarify the amendment’s application to Indian tribes.

The bill not only outlaws wagering on college, high school and Olympic sporting events in the United States, it also directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to research the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes and examine methods of detecting their use.

Senator McCain introduced the bill with Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Jim Jeffords (R-VT), and John Edwards (D-NC) on April 5. A committee hearing was held on April 26. A similar bill was introduced last year and passed by the committee. The legislation follows the recommendation of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, issued in June 1999, to ban betting on amateur sports throughout the country.

Outside supporters of the bill include 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 would sue if the bill becomes law.