I am writing to you to share my thoughts on a very serious matter - the NCAA's effort to ban legalized gambling on non-professional sporting events, including collegiate athletics.
I am strongly opposed to this initiative. In fact, I am convinced such a move would worsen the situation.
Outlawing legal betting on collegiate sports would neither eliminate nor significantly reduce betting on those sports. Rather, it would drive sports wagering further underground, on campuses and elsewhere.
Legal sports betting represents a small percentage of all sports gambling. Total legal sports betting in Nevada in 1998 amounted to $2.3 billion. Estimates of illegal, uncontrolled sports gambling nationally range from $80 billion to well over $300 billion annually. Clearly, the proposed ban would affect only legal, regulated activity. If it affected illegal bookies at all, it would be to increase their business.
At present, legal sports books assist the NCAA and law enforcement agencies by monitoring betting activities and alerting authorities (and each other) to anomalies, such as huge bets on underdogs that may indicate illegal activity. Professor Shannon Bybee, director of the UNLV International Gaming Institute and a former member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, points out that it was Las Vegas sports books who tipped authorities to probably illegal activity involving an Arizona State basketball game in 1993. That tip led to convictions. Dr. Bybee further explains that legal sports books must abide by currency-transaction reporting regulations, which aid in identifying perpetrators. The proposed ban would eliminate these advantages.
It is worth considering the impact a ban would likely have on television ratings - and on the television revenue that helps support intercollegiate athletic departments nationwide. History professor Richard Davies of the University of Nevada, Reno, writing on the nearly 400-year history of sports betting in America, observes that television has been a "major factor in the popularization of sports gambling," and that "(t)elevision ratings...for NCAA games and professional leagues are directly linked to the perpetuation of sports wagering." As your colleague on the NCAA Board of Directors and your Mountain West Conference representative, I am distressed at what I see as an exercise in symbolism rather than a thoughtful attempt to curb or eliminate illegal wagering among college athletes on or around campuses across the United States.
I think we can all agree that illegal betting on collegiate sports is a problem that must be addressed. but let us not do for sports betting what Prohibition did for drinking. Far better results can be achieved through increased education and counseling. As educational institutions, we should make that our goal.
CAROL C. HARTER
University of Nevada, Las Vegas