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Betting Bill to Coincide with NCAA Tourney

15 March 2001

by Benjamin Grove

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – March 15. 2001 --WASHINGTON -- Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., plans to introduce a bill Tuesday that would ban betting on college sports in Nevada casinos.

The action deliberately falls during "March Madness," the annual National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, which begins today. As Nevada casinos continue to collect wagers on the 65-team tournament, Graham will quietly enter the legislation he sponsors with Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., into the record on Capitol Hill, Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said.

Bishop said Graham had planned to introduce the bill today, but put it off because of a new report by watchdog group Public Citizen that is critical of the gambling industry's influence in Congress.

Graham's move is no surprise; Nevada lawmakers had been waiting for the bill.

"It's fairly routine for them to introduce the bill during March Madness," Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. "That's nothing new."

A House Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill could follow in the coming weeks. Bill supporters are planning media events for later this month to coincide with the widely watched tournament, Bishop said.

"In the next couple of weeks, you will see public events to generate support for the bill," Bishop said.

The bill aims to ban bets on college athletics in the one place in America that offers legal betting on games: Nevada. The bill would curb gambling among college students who use "campus bookies" and decrease the likelihood of game fixing by corrupt athletes, bill supporters say.

A similar bill advocated by Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and John McCain, R-Ariz., likely will not be introduced in the upper chamber any time soon. McCain will be busy for the next two weeks managing his campaign-finance reform bill, spokeswoman Pia Pialorsi said.

Brownback also is not ready to introduce the legislation, which will be similar, if not identical, to a bill introduced last year, a spokesman said. That bill last year passed the Senate Commerce Committee but Reid and Richard Bryan, D-Nev., blocked it from a floor vote.

"We don't have a timetable we are talking about right now," Brownback spokesman Erik Hotmire said. Brownback also likes the Nevada gambling bill, but said it doesn't go far enough.

"He supports most if not all the provisions in that bill," Hotmire said. "But the fact is that bill does nothing about the influence that legal gambling has on amateur athletics and the impact that it has on amateur athletes."

In recent weeks advocates of the betting-ban bill have gone head to head with gambling officials in dueling lobbying campaigns.

The gambling industry and Nevada's four-member delegation advocate an alternative bill introduced in the House and Senate by Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., that requires the U.S. attorney general to create a task force to enforce federal gambling laws; increases penalties for illegal gambling; launches a study of gambling by college students; and requires colleges and universities to crack down on campus betting.

The bill has about 30 Democratic and several Republican co-sponsors in the House.

Today Gibbons and top casino lobbyist Frank Fahrenkopf were scheduled to meet with a key lawmaker, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. He is the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where the gambling bills likely will originate. The two seek a commitment from Sensenbrenner to consider the Nevada bill alongside the betting-ban bill.

"We want to receive his feedback and see what he thinks about the issue," said Mike Dayton, Gibbons' chief of staff.

Gibbons and gaming officials in recent days have won the support of former University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, R-Neb., a new House member. But Osborne also supports the NCAA-backed betting ban bill, a spokeswoman said.

"I am very interested in eliminating the legal loophole that exists, as well as addressing illegal gambling," Osborne said in a written statement.

Reid said he hopes the Nevada bill will continue to gain momentum and that it would "butt heads" with the gambling ban legislation on the Senate floor.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said Graham was trying to use the bill as a political tool to help "catapult" himself into the Senate.

"We're working to see that he doesn't get to the United States Senate at Nevada's expense," Berkley said. "We're going to fight this, and we have right on our side."

Nevada's lawmakers acknowledge the Nevada gambling ban is popular among many lawmakers in Congress.

"As soon as it is introduced, we have a major issue on our hands," Berkley said. "Anyone who thinks that this game is over is mistaken."

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