The second session of the 106th Congress hadn’t even begun when the rhetoric began flying. Opponents of gaming making unsubstantiated claims about cartoon-themed slot machines. Members of Congress sponsoring legislation invoking recommendations from the National Gambling Impact Study Commission without basis. The Clinton administration proposing that the casino industry garnish back child-support payments from gambling winnings - a noble goal with questionable means.
The most public of those fights has been with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) over the bills it supports to ban legal wagering on amateur athletics. U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced S. 2021, the so-called High School and College Gambling Protection Act, while the House version, H.R. 3575, was introduced by U.S. Reps. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Tim Roemer (D-Ind.).
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Make no mistake about it: this is legislation that may make some people feel good, but it will not do any good in addressing the real problem in this country of illegal sports gambling. In fact, if you heed law enforcement experts, regulators and even those in the treatment community, as well as sports columnists and recent newspaper editorials, banning legal sports betting probably would make matters even worse (see table 1).
What is most disturbing about the NCAA’s campaign has been the misinformation that has accompanied the introduction of the legislation. The bill’s proponents have conceded that the real problem is illegal sports gambling, yet the legislation does nothing to improve law enforcement or increase public education in the 49 states where this sports betting already is illegal but is clearly taking place extensively.
The legislation’s proponents also have attempted to manufacture a cause and effect relationship between legal sports wagering in Nevada and illegal sports gambling elsewhere. Their simplistic approach was clear in a chart presented at the press conference announcing the bill’s introduction, in which they showed the amount of legal sports betting and the amount of point-shaving scandals growing proportionately during the past 20 years. They disregarded the fact that the most serious scandals took place in the 1950s, well before the modern-day sports books existed in Nevada. They failed to take into account the fact that thousands of games have been played during the past 20 years, and only eight point-shaving scandals have been discovered during that time, all originating outside Nevada with illegal wagering. And they neglected to mention that the presence of legal sports books has helped alert law enforcement to betting irregularities, thus increasing the likelihood of discovering the few point-shaving scandals that occur.
The fact that there is no clear nexus between the action recommended by this legislation and the stated goal is particularly ironic since legal sports wagering in Nevada amounts to less than 1 percent of illegal sports gambling nationwide. Closing down Nevada’s legal sports books in the name of doing something meaningful about illegal sports gambling is akin to closing down legal pharmacies in the name of reducing illegal drug use. Many of the inconsistencies from the NCAA and the bills’ cosponsors have been laid out on table 2.
A bill that would examine the real problem - illegal sports betting - is a good alternative to the NCAA-backed legislation. Introduced by former state gaming regulator U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), S. 2050, the Combating Illegal College and University Gambling Act, is consistent with a unanimous recommendation of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission to set up a U.S. Justice Department panel that would examine all aspects of illegal sports gambling and recommend effective nationwide countermeasures.
A NATIONAL DIALOGUE ON ILLEGAL SPORTS GAMBLING
Serious problems demand serious solutions, not empty symbols. There needs to be a national dialogue on illegal sports gambling in this country and youth gambling generally that brings all the relevant parties to the table: educators, law enforcement, amateur and professional sports organizations, academic experts, problem gambling groups, the gaming industry and others.
The AGA already has begun working with Harvard Medical School on such meaningful measures. The program, still in its planning stages, seeks to reduce addiction through sports and physical fitness programs. Recognizing that youth admire athletes and athletic achievement, the program would seek to capture the millions of Americans when they participate in organized athletics to teach them about addiction and prevention. Prominent athletes would help deliver the message more effectively than it has in the past and counter the existing social pressures on our nation’s youth.
Unfortunately, the NCAA has yet to participate in this program despite being invited to do so, instead concentrating its efforts on feel-good bills. The NCAA, it seems, would prefer to chase after empty symbols than find a real solution to a real problem affecting hundreds of thousands of its own students on its own campuses.
CAMEL’S NOSE IN OUR TENT
The facts are on our side; unfortunately, the NCAA has college presidents and coaches in 49 states to lobby on its behalf. It’s important that you contact your U.S. senators and representative and let them know the facts. All states, not just Nevada, have a stake in this issue, because it represents the federal camel’s nose in the state-regulated gaming tent. We all share a common goal - to ensure the primacy of state gaming regulation - and this legislation could signal the acceptability of federal intervention in our business, a precedent that should never be set.