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Bill to Ban College Sports Betting May Soon Return

9 April 2003

by Tony Batt Stephens Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - March Madness came and went this year without Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., moving to prohibit Nevada sports books from taking bets on the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament and other amateur athletic events.

McCain said Tuesday he held off because of the war in Iraq.

But with the war now apparently winding down, McCain said he will reintroduce a sports betting ban bill "soon," although he declined to give a date.

"I was waiting until the war kind of quieted down," said McCain, who spent 5 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "We had originally planned to do it during March Madness."

As McCain waited, however, Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., on March 26 introduced legislation in the House targeting Nevada sports books with a college sports betting ban. So far, the bill has 28 co-sponsors.

"I have definite feelings about it, having been in coaching for 36 years," said Osborne, who guided the University of Nebraska football team to three national championships before retiring and entering politics.

Osborne's bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, but he said he doesn't know when the bill will come up for a hearing.

Osborne said he hasn't communicated directly with McCain about the effort.

Another proponent of the betting ban, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he is urging Congress to begin work on legislation "sooner rather than later."

"We're one scandal away from ruining some student athletes' lives if we don't get more involved," he said.

McCain is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which would have jurisdiction over the sports betting ban measure. He said he isn't sure he will schedule another hearing on the legislation.

The last time the committee voted on the bill on May 3, 2001, there was a 10-10 split. Although the bill was considered approved because a majority did not oppose it, Senate leaders didn't schedule a final vote on the floor.

McCain said he will not attach the sports betting bill to other legislation such as a boxing reform measure which the committee approved last month.

"It would unnecessarily complicate the boxing bill," McCain said. "(The sports betting ban) is very controversial, as you know."

Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, said he expects McCain to unveil the latest sports betting ban proposal within a week to 10 days.

"I'm sure Senator (John) Ensign (R-Nev.) and Senator (Harry) Reid (D-Nev.) and the (Nevada) House delegation will always look for a clean bill that does not get mixed up with other issues," Fahrenkopf said.

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