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Arizona Senator Plans Hearing On Betting-Ban Bill

5 April 2001

by Jeff German and Benjamin Grove

LAS VEGAS –April 5, 2001 --Arizona Sen. John McCain, riding high from his campaign finance reform win, was gearing up today to introduce his bill on Capitol Hill that would ban betting on college sports in Nevada.

In a move that has put Nevada's gaming industry and congressional leaders on the defensive, McCain already has announced that he tentatively plans to hold a hearing on the NCAA-backed bill in his Commerce Committee on April 26.

"He just had a tremendous victory in the Senate on campaign finance reform," American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf said this morning. "We know that he loves to play craps in Las Vegas. He probably wants to keep rolling while the dice are hot."

Wayne Mehl, the Washington lobbyist for the Nevada Resort Association, said McCain's fast movement on the bill does not come as a surprise to the casino industry.

"He's the star of the town right now," Mehl said. "We expected that once he decided to go, he would unleash the floodgates and try to push this thing through as quickly as possible."

Pia Pialorsi, McCain's spokeswoman on the Commerce Committee, said the senator, was anxious to "renew his effort to clean up amateur sports" across the country.

The bill, she said, would be introduced either today or Friday.

Pialorsi could not say when a vote on the measure would be taken.

But Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., a member of the Commerce Committee, said the vote likely would occur a week after the hearing. vEnsign said the four members of Nevada's congressional delegation were working hard on a strategy to kill McCain's legislation, but he declined to give out details.

"We want to keep our cards close to the vest at this point," he said.

Ensign said he and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., with the help of gaming industry leaders, were lobbying Commerce Committee members behind the scenes in a bid to defeat the bill in committee.

"It's an education time on why we feel we are right," Ensign said. "The gaming industry has done a great job of coming back (to Washington) and spending time with various people."

Top staff members of the Nevada delegation met this morning to map out a strategy for the upcoming hearing.

The delegation is looking to come up with high-profile witnesses who will testify that the McCain Bill, which is expected to be similar to an NCAA measure introduced in the House last month, is bad legislation and does nothing to address the widespread problem of illegal gambling in America.

The Nevada delegation last month introduced its own measure, which would create a task force to crack down on illegal betting and put more pressure on the NCAA to attack the problem on its college campuses.

On the House side, Reps. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., and Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., have more than 80 co-sponsors for the bill, and in the Senate, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has agreed to support the measure. The Nevada bill is expected to be heard before Hatch's panel.

Jane Jankowski, spokeswoman for the NCAA, said her organization won't comment on McCain's bill until after it is introduced in the Senate.

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