03/25/2005 1:00AM

Betting-ban legislation sure sign of spring


On Thursday, March 17, a rite of spring was kept intact when Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., introduced a bill that would ban betting on college games in Nevada sports books. Wow. Another bill, unveiled on the first day of round one of the NCAA basketball tournament.

It's not the first time such time-consuming and misguided legislation has been introduced. In 2000, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced a bill intended to stamp out legal U.S. wagering on college sports. The legislature has considered a betting-ban bill each of the past five years, and not one of the bills has come close to passing both the House and Senate.

Osborne, a former college football coach at the University of Nebraska, believes that gambling on college games - whether it is legal or illegal - corrupts young players and threatens the integrity of the competition. So, he must reason, if he can't get a handle on the rampant illegal sports betting on university campuses or on computers around the world, removing the legal aspect of sports betting in Nevada will somehow solve the problem. But even if he were successful in eliminating legal sports wagering, it would be like taking a teaspoon of sand out of the Sahara desert.

McCain chose not to reintroduce his betting-ban bill for the first time in six years, perhaps waiting until there's another betting scandal to bring the issue back on the floor. Maybe one like the point-shaving scam several years ago at Arizona State University, which was uncovered by Nevada sports books.

Osborne wastes valuable time trying to put a band-aid on the real problem of illegal sports gambling and focusing federal energy on what is a states-rights issue, and his proposed bill unfairly targets a highly regulated business in Nevada.

In the past two decades, sports betting has skyrocketed in popularity in Nevada. Those who come to Las Vegas for the first round of the NCAA tournament are those same people who fill the stadiums at home throughout the year. As with the Super Bowl each year, Las Vegas stages the only legal party for those who want to bet on the games.

What McCain may have understood, and what Osborne may not, is that money bet legally on sports is a fraction of that bet illegally. Las Vegas sports book managers, through betting patterns, are the first to recognize any possible nefarious activities during games. Without such outlets, much corruption would go undetected by authorities.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor of the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.