College Betting Measure Surfaces in US House

28 March 2003

Trying to accomplish what Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was unable to do in recent sessions of Congress, a former football coach is pushing a bill that would outlaw gambling on amateur sports in the United States.

Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., who made a name for himself from 1972-1997 as the head football coach for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, on Wednesday introduced the Student Athlete Protection Act, a bill that would ban betting on all high school, college and Olympic sports.

Osborne said the new bill is "geared to protect young athletes and the integrity of the games they play." he added, "If we continue to allow betting on our amateur sports, the primary winner will be Las Vegas."

He also pointed out that bookmakers are taking money from those directly involved in the games. In the year 2000, he said, college sports gambling represented between 30 and 40 percent of the $2.3 billion gambling industry.

"By continuing to allow Nevada sports books and the gambling industry to usurp billions of dollars from fans, players and families across the U.S., we are supporting an industry that is considered illegal in nearly every state in the nation," he said. "Our legislation would make college sports betting illegal everywhere and would work to return the emphasis of amateur athletics back to skill, endurance and excellence."

The bill, which has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, has come about in the midst of the NCAA's marquee event of the year, the men's National Championship Basketball Tournament.

"This is just a continuation of the March Madness we see every year," said Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., who opposes the bill. "The NCAA has chosen a popular coach to be their lead sponsor in this legislation to attack legal sports betting in Nevada."

The latest incarnation of the bill could gain more support than earlier versions solely on Osborne's fame and popularity. Osborne also picked up Wisconsin Congressman and former Harvard quarterback Ron Kind as a sponsor.

The NCAA has endured numerous betting scandals over the years, most notably the point-shaving controversies in Arizona State University and Northwest University. Earlier this month, it was reveled that a quarterback from Florida State, one of Osborne's biggest rivals from his coaching days, was betting illegally on football games. The player, Adrian McPherson, was charged with misdemeanor gambling charges for allegedly placing bets on Seminole football games--ones in which he played.

The NCAA has long been opposed to betting on college games at Nevada Sports books and earlier this month its new President, Myles Brand, publicly called on McCain to take the lead on efforts to approve the ban in Congress. Previous efforts by McCain failed in 2000 and 2001.

The Senate has yet to see a similar bill introduced this session, but a spokesperson for McCain told the Associated Press Thursday that the long-time foe of sports betting hasn't forgotten about the issue.

"He absolutely plans to introduce it. I just don't know about the timing," the spokeswoman, Pia Pialorsi, said. "We absolutely will work with Congressman Osborne."

But, while the NCAA might be using a new leader for its cause in Osborne, Congressional leaders from Nevada are prepared to vehemently oppose any ban that cuts into business of their constituents.

Gibbons and Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., had a meeting last week with House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to discuss the possibility of a college sports betting ban reaching the Judiciary Committee during the current legislative session.

Porter said the two will be meeting next with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and he's confident in the early going that the Osborne bill faces an uphill battle.

"We'll be working the (Judiciary) Committee and the chairman to do everything we can to stop it," he said.

Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, meanwhile, called Osborne's bill "is a cosmetic solution to a real problem."

"The problem that exists in this country today with regard to college sports wagering is the illegal activity taking place in the other 49 states, not the legal activity in Nevada," Fahrenkopf said in a statement.

Click here to view a copy of the Osborne bill.