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Tony Batt

Will McCain's gambling stance scare voters?

12 February 2008

WASHINGTON. DC -- The casino industry is not worried Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., might resurrect a plan to prohibit Nevada sports books from taking bets on college football and basketball games if he becomes president, according to the industry's chief lobbyist.

"The world has changed," said Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association.

McCain began pushing the sports betting ban in 2000 when he first ran for president.

After being repeatedly outmaneuvered by Nevada lawmakers and casino lobbyists, McCain acknowledged in 2005 that Congress would not pass a ban until another gambling scandal occurred on a college campus. McCain also predicted there would be another scandal.

But Fahrenkopf said support for a sports betting ban faded when new leadership at the NCAA decided it would not be a priority.

Since then, the casino industry has forged a "tremendous working relationship" not only with the NCAA but also with the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, Fahrenkopf said.

Now, Fahrenkopf said, "Most believe we are the canary in the mineshaft with regard to detecting point shaving and fixing of games."

Calls to McCain's campaign and the NCAA were not returned.

While McCain's sponsorship of the college sports betting ban set off alarms in Nevada's top industry, "John never indicated concern about any other aspect of gaming," Fahrenkopf said.

Fahrenkopf, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said he is not sure McCain can win Nevada in November if he is the GOP presidential nominee.

"It depends on who he is running against," Fahrenkopf said. "I think he stands a much better chance if he's running against (Sen. Hillary) Clinton (D-N.Y.) than (Sen. Barack) Obama (D-Ill.)."

Obama would be able to attract independent voters and even some moderate Republicans in Nevada, "which wouldn't happen if Clinton is the Democratic nominee," Fahrenkopf said.

Since 1988, Fahrenkopf has served as co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates. He said he knows McCain better than any of the other previous presidential nominees in the last 20 years.

"I don't think it will make any difference in the debates. We do these things fairly," Fahrenkopf said.