College Bet Ban Bill Introduced in House while MGM Mirage Exec Blasts NCAA

20 March 2001 Gaming Wire

WASHINGTON - Two House members introduced their long-awaited bill Tuesday to prohibit Nevada sports books from taking bets on college games.

Earlier in the day, MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni said he will push for legislation to establish an oversight body to regulate the NCAA.

Reps. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Tim Roemer, D-Ind., who sponsored a betting ban last year that stalled, revived the legislation.

They listed two co-sponsors, Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wis., and Tom Osborne, R-Neb., the former coach of the University of Nebraska football team.

"High school, college and Olympic sports represent the best ideals of camaraderie, team work and individual achievement," Kind said in a joint news release. "Allowing Las Vegas style betting on these sports diminishes these ideals and the hard work of the athletes.

The bill would make it illegal for gamblers to place wagers on college games at Nevada casinos. Recently adopted Nevada gaming rules already prohibit betting on high school and Olympic sports.

Although backed by the NCAA, which is in the midst of its annual "March Madness" basketball tournament, Graham and Roemer introduced their bill without fanfare.

The American Gaming Association, the industry's chief lobbying arm in Washington, promptly announced it will vigorously oppose the Graham-Roemer bill. "Their so-called solution is akin to banning alcohol everywhere in order to address underage drinking. We tried Prohibition before and it didn't work," AGA President Frank Fahrenkopf said in a news release.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, plan to unveil a college betting ban proposal soon in the Senate. Brownback is scheduled to discuss the issue at the men's Final Four tournament in Minneapolis on April 2.

The Graham-Roemer bill will compete for votes with legislation offered Feb. 14 by Nevada lawmakers calling for a national study of illegal gambling instead of a ban on college sports betting. Introduced by Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., the Nevada bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and 35 other lawmakers. Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., have proposed similar legislation in the Senate.

In an interview Tuesday morning, Lanni said Congress needs to rein in the NCAA, which he said lacks "fundamental credibility and honesty.

"They can get away with that because no one's able to challenge them," said Lanni, who was one of nine members of a federal commission that completed a two-year study of legalized gambling's economic and social impact in 1999. "They hold university presidents and chairs of boards and trustees as hostage."

Once Congress resolves the college sports betting ban issue, Lanni said, "I'd like to work on a bill to have an oversight committee dealing with the NCAA because it operates in a god-like fashion. It needs to have some restrictions and controls and some oversight. I think that would be a very meaningful piece of legislation."

Lanni said he has not yet thought through how oversight can be exercised over the NCAA but he noted MGM Mirage and other gaming companies are regulated by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"I don't think anyone should have a free ride and not be answerable to anyone else," he said. Asked if he could say anything good about the NCAA, Lanni said, "No." The NCAA could not be reached Tuesday.

Lanni dismissed as "gibberish," a report last week by the watchdog group Public Citizen that alleged the Nevada casino industry killed the NCAA bill last year with soft money contributions to congressional leaders.

Accompanied by MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman, Lanni was in Washington this week to continue the gaming industry's lobbying efforts against the NCAA bill. On Monday, Lanni and Feldman visited the offices of Sens. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.; Gordon Smith, R-Ore. and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. Lanni, who lives in Southern California, is a constituent of Schiff.

Lincoln said Tuesday she has not made a final decision this year, but "I supported Harry's (Reid) bill last year." Schiff could not be reached.

Smith confirmed he is the first Republican senator besides Ensign to support the Nevada alternative instead of the NCAA bill.

"I believe sports betting is a fact of American life, and it's better to have a legal channel for it like Nevada does so it can be monitored," Smith said.

Meanwhile, Brownback said Tuesday he still has not decided if he will try to add the NCAA bill to a campaign finance reform bill that is being debated this week in the Senate.

"We're going to be on campaign finance for two weeks, so we'll contemplate it as the process develops and see if it would be appropriate and helpful to put it forward," Brownback said.

Brownback said he still has not talked to McCain about his idea. McCain, a leading sponsor of the campaign finance reform bill, said last week he would not accept the NCAA bill as an amendment.