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Rod Smith
 

Lessons in Sports Betting Put Some UNLV Officials at Odds

13 September 2004

Training courses to bet on football games are really no different from classes in the fine art of Chinese cuisine, or at least that's the word out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Critics are concerned courses like that could compound addiction issues for problem gamblers and the community, and could tarnish the university's image as an institution of higher education and a leader in the field of problem gambling.

However, there is no sign the university will wade any further into programs intended to train individuals how to gamble.

UNLV is again offering a course this fall called Sports Betting: How to Win Betting on Football. The class is scheduled to start Sept. 29.

Class instructor Stephen Nover, a former gaming columnist for the Review-Journal, said he is reviving a class that was very popular in the early 1990s. Everyone agrees, Las Vegas is the ideal place to mine interest in how to gamble.

"This is probably the only class like it in the country because we have gambling in Las Vegas. Most people can handle gambling and this can sharpen their skills a little," he said. "If people can take a class and learn to do it a little better, what's the big deal?"

Nover said the course will feature oddsmakers and other professionals as guest lecturers who will offer tips and share strategies on successful sports gambling.

He said the class is part of the continuing education program offered by UNLV, which is self-supporting and not offered for credit toward any academic degrees.

Others, however, see it working at cross purposes to UNLV's programs in the field of problem gambling and with efforts to improve the university's reputation for educational excellence.

UNLV professor Bill Thompson, a specialist in gambling studies, said the problem with the course is that it uses the university's name and facilities in ways that could undermine its efforts to address the issue of problem gambling.

"Certainly, it encourages gambling. The policy of the state has been one of neutrality on gambling. It's not the role of the state to encourage gambling," he said.

Offering courses on the industry or on management in the industry is a proper role for the university, Thompson said.

"Everything except how much you should expect to win and how to do it. That's inappropriate. Most people lose. That's why casinos have sports books," he said.

"We have an investment class. It doesn't tell people how to play the stock market. That's a fine distinction, but it's not appropriate to teach people how to play craps. Classes should teach how to manage sports books," Thompson said.

"And even though it's self-supporting, it's the public education institution endorsing gambling," he said.

However, Richard Lee, vice provost for education outreach, said the continuing education program is designed to meet the learning needs of the community. "In that sense, this is like Chinese cuisine," he said.

He said the university regularly polls the community to see what subjects are in demand for instruction, and how to gamble came back high on the list.

Lee said gambling is legal in Nevada and people taking the course will mainly be individuals who are predisposed to gamble.

"But this will make people more aware of the gambling process. In the process, we'll be doing as much to discourage gambling as to encourage it. We're going to let them know what a complicated business this is," he said.

Larry Ashley, an addictions specialist in the Department of Marriage, Family and Community Counseling at UNLV, said, on the other side of the ledger, the university has been pioneering in programs that train therapists in treating problem gambling as an addiction.

"It's been a real struggle in Nevada. In some ways, we're still behind the rest of the country (in problem gambling), but in training we're probably now the national leader," he said.

Ashley acknowledged that some people with gambling addictions would be likely to gravitate toward the new class, which could compound their problems, but he said the continuing education program is simply trying to respond to requests it gets from the community.

"And it's a nonacademic program the university offers to serve the community," he said.

Bo Bernhard, director of Gambling Research at UNLV, acknowledged the irony, but said the betting class no more causes gambling addiction than the continuing education classes in wine tasting cause alcoholism.

In addition, he said a single course on betting on sports is a drop in the bucket compared with the academic and research programs under way at UNLV to address the issues involved in problem gambling.

He said all students who go through introductory hotel management courses have to pass a section on problem gambling.

Bernhard said the course, the first of its kind in a hotel program, is certified by the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, and is designed to train possible industry leaders who are sensitive to the importance of problem gambling in this industry.

Carol O'Hare, who heads the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, could not be reached for comment.

Bernhard, who is also head of the International Gaming Institute, said that group recently hosted a successful public forum on problem gambling, the first of its kind in Southern Nevada that was co-hosted by the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

He also said there is a tremendous amount of award-winning research coming out of UNLV on problem gambling.

Monday-morning quarterbacks have criticized the course because it will encourage betting on college sports, which Sen. John McCain has targeted for allegedly corrupting students and games.

However, Bernhard and Nover said the criticism is misplaced and that the real problem is illegal betting, which makes up the vast bulk of gambling on college sports.

The consensus at the university, at least, seems to be if it's legal in Nevada, it shouldn't be a big deal.