Not enough upside for gambling bill

Ban college betting? You might as well ban it all, because that's the next step.

Plenty of noise has been made of late about the bill before the U.S. Senate that seeks to ban betting on college games. The measure was introduced last week by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who look to limit Nevada's freedom in the sports gaming world.

Congress banned sports betting in most states back in 1992, but Nevada is an exception. Now the suits in Washington are back, and this time the exceptions are the target.

Some of this is a reaction to the half-dozen point-shaving scandals that have grabbed headlines in the last five years. We know the stories: College student bets on his school, loses some money, then needs to win big to make it up. That's a recipe for disaster, especially if he happens to be on the ins with a few members of the basketball team.

There's other stories out there too, and the worst of them are about the epidemic of betting on college campuses. I went to school in Southern California, and much was made out there about Hollywood Park trying to lure college-age kids out to the races, and how many of them ran up big debts.

The reaction is based in reality - as a parent, it has to be scary to think your kids might be buried in gambling debt before they graduate from college.

Keep in mind, a lot of my views come as an "outsider," because until last year I'd been a Californian all my life. The concept of placing bets on games in a sports book is foreign to most people over the border, as they usually place bets only when visiting Nevada.

So, like Californians, it's natural for people in other states to look at the problems caused by gambling and wonder why it couldn't all just go away. There's nothing for them to lose.

Still, the issue is a difficult one, because there's more to it than just point shaving and debt-strapped college kids.

Economically, Nevada would suffer enormously. It's estimated that state casinos took in about $2 billion in sports wagering alone last year, and as much as 40 percent of that total came from bets on college games.

That's a lot of cash down the drain. You can't drain $2 billion in revenue from the economy of a state this small and expect good results.

And if fiscal discipline is still the buzzword in Washington, you can bet the federal government won't make up for that lost money in other ways.

Opponents of the bill also point out rightly that betting on college games from outside of Nevada is already illegal, so you're not attacking the heart of the point-shaving problem.

To place a legal sports bet, you have to be in Nevada, and it's unlikely that those involved in point shaving at Notre Dame claim residency in Nevada.

Then there's the issue of self-government and infringing on states' rights. Does the federal government have a right to regulate gambling within a state?

That has to be the bulk of the debate here.

As a side note, I find it amusing how we scream states' rights on an issue like this and then ignore it on others. That includes issues such as gun control, abortion, the Confederate flag and public school funding. Regardless of your view on those issues, if we're going to bring the rights of the state into the gambling debate, we ought to at least be intellectually consistent.

The federal government has every right to regulate betting over state lines because of the Interstate Commerce Act, but Nevada should control what goes on within its own state lines.

From what I've seen, our state does a pretty good job of that. You can't bet on Nevada or UNLV games, which prevents point shaving here. The point-shaving problems aren't in our state - they're in everyone else's.

And once they make college bets illegal, you can be sure that they'll come after pro sports next.

In an ideal world, I wouldn't mind seeing gambling made totally illegal. I don't think it enriches our society one iota. But this isn't an ideal world, and making it illegal now would probably do more harm than good.

I personally stay away from wagering. I know little about the strategies needed to succeed, and I don't trust my luck. I was also raised to be responsible with money, so those are enough of a deterrent to keep me from losing money frivolously.

In the end, that may be the best solution to this problem. Self-regulation and good parents have taught me to be responsible. Maybe we need a little more of that - it's probably more effective than trying to legislate it anyway.

Jeremy Littau is the Nevada Appeal sports editor.


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