WASHINGTON - A newspaper industry group says a proposal in Congress to ban betting on college sports probably would not prompt newspapers to stop publishing point spreads for coming games.
The opinion by the Newspaper Association of America counters a central argument of those who want to outlaw betting on amateur sports, a practice legal only in Nevada. Advocates say newspapers would be less likely to run point spreads on college sports if betting on those games were illegal throughout the nation.
Point spreads ''are generated for no other reason than to facilitate betting on college sports,'' according to a report by the Senate Commerce Committee, which approved legislation in April to ban betting on high school, college and Olympic sports.
The argument was contradicted by NAA president John F. Sturm, who wrote in a letter this week:
''If Congress prohibits gambling on college sports, NAA believes newspapers will continue to have an interest in publishing point spreads on college games, since point spreads appear to be useful, if not valuable, to newspaper readers who have no intention of betting on games.''
Sturm submitted his organization's view at the request of the House Justice Committee chairman, Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and the ranking Democrat, John Conyers of Michigan. Their committee holds a hearing on the banning bill Tuesday.
An April poll commissioned by the newspaper association found that 70 percent of people who look at point spreads on college sports do so to obtain information about a favorite team or a future game. Only 11 percent of respondents said they look at point spreads to place bets.
Sturm also said newspapers are only one source of published point spreads. Other sources include radio, television, toll-free telephone numbers and the Internet.
John Shelk, who lobbies for casinos as vice president of the American Gaming Association, said the NAA statement is significant. He said proponents of banning amateur sports betting launched the effort last year with the argument that newspaper point spreads connect legal betting in Nevada and illegal betting on college campuses.
''Here we are eight months later, and the newspapers have spoken,'' Shelk said.
Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., said he continues to believe some newspapers would stop printing college sports point spreads if betting on the events were universally illegal.
''Some newspapers decide now not to,'' Roemer said, ''and there might be even less economic incentive to publish them in the future should our bill pass.''
Roemer has sponsored the proposed ban in the House along with Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
The legislation approved by the Senate Commerce Committee is awaiting action by the full Senate.
Tuesday's hearing in the House Judiciary Committee will mark the first action on the House version of the bill.
Former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith and University of South Carolina football coach Lou Holtz are among witnesses who will testify in support of a ban.
Defenders of legal sports betting in Nevada say the ban would hurt that state without making a dent in college sports betting. They say 99 percent of gambling on college sports occurs illegally on college campuses, not legally in Nevada casinos.