Every year, more than 40 million visitors come to Nevada to enjoy casino gaming as well as fine hotels, restaurants, shopping and entertainment. Many visitors take the opportunity to place a legal wager on a professional or amateur sporting event. Only in recent months has the small amount of legal sports wagering that is regulated, taxed and policed in Nevada come under fire from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), even though it has been going on for decades.
The real motivation for this unwarranted attack is clear: the NCAA, under siege on a variety of issues, is struggling to find a quick fix to its public relations problems. Unfortunately, it is doing so in a manner designed to divert attention from the serious national problem of illegal gambling among students on America’s campuses. The NCAA has found a convenient ally in the nation’s anti-gambling movement for whom this issue is a pawn in their larger battle to dictate to adults how to spend their precious leisure time and entertainment dollars (see Dr. James Dobson’s op-ed of May 5, 2000).
The battle now being waged by the NCAA in Congress to ban sports wagering in Nevada is punctuated by gross distortions and outright misstatements. Here are the facts:
- There is a fundamental difference between Nevada’s legal sports wagering, which is limited to adults (over 21) who are physically present and place wagers with tightly regulated public sports books, and the illegal sports gambling that takes place in the darkness of dorm rooms, corner taverns and over the Internet.
- Legal sports wagering represents a mere 1 percent to 3 percent of all sports betting, based on estimates by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. Dr. Dobson and the NCAA ignore the 97 percent to 99 percent of sports gambling that has been illegal for decades but continues to thrive and will only grow if their proposal becomes law. By contrast, law enforcement experts have suggested that Congress would be wiser to examine why existing laws are not being enforced and work to strengthen laws against Internet gambling, a common way for college students to place an illegal sports bet.
- Despite the NCAA’s revisionist history, there were more serious point-shaving scandals in the 1950s and 1960s - well before modern sports books in Nevada - than there were in the 1990s. While the NCAA speaks as if scandals are recent and recurring, we can be thankful the last major scandals (Arizona State and Northwestern) involved games in the mid-1990s. While they argue their case as if students are committing sports bribery with reckless abandon, in truth questions were raised in only a handful of the thousands of games played in the 1990s.
Of course, even one scandal is one too many. However, we do not close the stock exchanges because a few bad apples engage in insider trading. Instead, we work to prevent and punish the wrongdoers who betray the trust of others. That’s why the commercial casino industry asked the NCAA to work together to address illegal gambling in ways that the scientific and compulsive gambling treatment communities have recommended. Unfortunately, the NCAA has abandoned its own recommendations of last year, preferring to invest in legislation blaming Nevada that many columnists who follow college sports have criticized as counter-productive.
The NCAA bears a major responsibility for contributing to a corrosive environment on campuses where money, not pure amateurism, rules. Who recently signed a television contract worth $6 billion over 11 years just for the men’s basketball tournament alone? The NCAA. Who is allowing companies to pay coaches handsome fees for endorsing products worn by their athletes? The NCAA. And who is prohibiting its athletes from earning a dime of the money going to adults based on the unpaid labors of college students? The NCAA. This hypocrisy is the truly unseemly conduct that Congress should be concerned about.
What’s worse, the NCAA and anti-gambling advocates are using convicted felons to advance their cause. Kevin Pendergast served time in prison for orchestrating the Northwestern point-shaving scandals, which primarily involved illegal bookies. Dr. Dobson wrote that Mr. Pendergast “found” himself in the scandal, as if he were an innocent bystander. The details of his case belie his convenient “after-the-fact” blaming of Nevada’s legal sports books. Since he was trying to take money from them under false pretenses, blaming them for what happened is like blaming the victim of a crime for the criminal’s conduct.
Since the founding of the country, we have permitted each state to determine whether to allow any legal wagering, and if so, what forms and under what regulations. That system has worked well. If Congress can now tell Nevada what to do in this instance, nearly ten years after Congress expressly sanctioned legal sports wagering in Nevada, Congress can dictate gaming policy to lotteries, racetracks, Indian casinos and commercial casinos nationwide. Congress should stop the NCAA and its anti-gambling allies such as Dr. Dobson from becoming the nation’s Gambling Nannies.