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Kevin Smith

NCAA Holds Its Stance against Betting

19 March 2004

The popularity of the NCAA Men's basketball tournament means that March will likely be the biggest month of the year for Internet and land-based bookmakers targeting North American punters.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which has long been opposed to gambling of any sort, including legally placed bets in Nevada, is using the timing and media publicity generated by its March Madness tournament, to increase its pressure on the sports betting industry.

But officials with the NCAA acknowledge that the popularity of sports betting is growing in the United States and that preventing betting on college games is becoming increasingly difficult. The most recent efforts to pass a bill that would ban betting on amateur events--a measure that is strongly supported by the NCAA--failed in 2003

In 2003, licensed sports books in Nevada took in $151 million in basketball wagers, which included a small amount bet on NBA professional teams, according to the Nevada Gambling Control Board. Comparatively, in January, the books brought in a record $81 million from the Super Bowl.

With fans having nearly a month to place their wagers on tournament games, March Madness represents the biggest wagered sporting event of the year. The popularity of the wagering isn't restricted to legal sports books either. Some reports put the total wagering tab at more than $8 billion

Leading offshore sports books are gearing up for heavy action as well. is projecting $30 million in bets will come through the site on the tournament. took in $96 million in wagers in 2003 and is expecting to see at least a 30 percent increase this year.

Adding to the NCAA's headaches will be thousands of college students taking root in Las Vegas this weekend for spring break. And those who can't make the trip can choose from the hundreds of online sports books.

Is the NCAA losing ground in initiative to prevent wagering on college sports?

"I don't believe it's a losing battle, but I certainly wouldn't suggest we're winning," Bill Saum, the association's director of agent, gambling and amateurism activities, told the Associated Press.

This sentiment was no doubt heightened last Friday when a plane flew over Saum's office in Indianapolis (where the Big Ten conference tournament was underway) displaying an advertisement for an online sports book

The plane flew over the downtown area again on Saturday and Sunday as fans were heading into Conseco Fieldhouse, where the games were played.

The NCAA's official position is that gambling creates the potential for fraud, "demeans the competition" and "jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community."

Within the last five years there have been cases of point shaving scandals and marquee athletes betting online, despite heavy restrictions from the NCAA forbidding them from doing so.

The NCAA has even been outspoken about the casual office pools, which range from $1 to $5 for entrance fees.

"Those individuals in $1 pools might believe we're going over the edge, but the fact is, across the U.S., the stakes grow to $10, $50, thousands of dollars, and on Wall Street, it enters into the hundreds of thousands," Saum said. "It's difficult to say pools are 'sort of OK.' We know, for example, that pools are an entry point for youths into gambling."

Saum added, "We're fighting an uphill battle because of the continual desensitizing of society in general toward gambling. There are so many casinos and lotteries. We need to constantly remind young people about the ills of sports wagering."

NCAA Holds Its Stance against Betting is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith