Senate panel passes ban on college betting

WASHINGTON - A Senate committee voted Thursday to ban betting on college sports - a practice legal only in Nevada - but declined a challenge from a Nevada senator to set a nationwide minimum gambling age of 21.

Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., accused his colleagues on the Senate Commerce Committee of hypocrisy on the issue of gambling by young people. He suggested they were interested only in ''trying to give Nevada the shaft.''

The legislation would outlaw betting on Olympic, college or high school athletic events. Though there is little legal betting on the Olympics and none on high school sports, Nevada's gambling industry accepts bets on college sporting events that do not involve a school in the state.

The Nevada gambling industry took in $2.3 billion in sports wagers in fiscal 1999, with 30 percent to 40 percent bet on college sports.

Despite recent requests by the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, National Football League and Major League Baseball to extend the proposed ban to professional sports, the committee focused solely on amateur events.

''Legalized gambling on kids is wrong,'' said Commerce Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz. ''They should not be reduced to a point spread and a spectacle for wagering.''

Supporters of the amateur sports betting ban said it would help in the broader fight against illegal gambling on college campuses.

Bryan said the ban ''will have absolutely no impact at all'' because 99 percent of gambling on college sports occurs illegally on college campuses, not legally in Nevada casinos. The committee rejected his amendment to exempt college sports betting from the ban.

In its report last year, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission recommended banning bets on college sports. It also recommended a nationwide minimum age of 21 to gamble, which Bryan proposed as an amendment to the bill. The committee rejected the proposal.

Casinos in Nevada and most other states forbid betting by those under 21, but some states allow people as young as 18 to bet on horse races or buy lottery tickets.

The committee also rejected proposals by Bryan to force colleges to spend more money on gambling abuse prevention, to cut off aid to any student-athlete caught gambling illegally, and to step up efforts to reduce illegal gambling by students.

Bryan said the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a principal supporter of the betting ban, and its member colleges and universities worried too much about Nevada while doing too little to address gambling on campus.

''How serious are we about this effort?'' Bryan asked rhetorically as his amendments were rejected. ''Is this a serious national problem or isn't it?''

Doris Dixon, NCAA director of federal relations, said representatives travel to campuses for seminars on gambling.

The House has not yet held hearings on a similar bill sponsored by Reps. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Tim Roemer, D-Ind.

Rep. Shelley Berkley. D-Nev., said such a ban would destroy Nevada sports books, costing the state significant number of jobs and tax revenue.

Instead she said she introduced a bill Thursday that would increase penalties on illegal bookmaking and demand greater action by the NCAA.

''The NCAA bill currently being considered is a slap in the face to all Nevadans and a grave intrusion by the federal government into what is fundamentally a state issue,'' she said.

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