04/10/2003 11:00PM

Ex-Nebraska coach leads ban on betting


It's back.

Another bill to prohibit Nevada sports books from taking bets on college sports will be reintroduced on Capitol Hill, most likely sooner than later.

As in the past, Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., will be the one to introduce the Senate bill that would ban sports betting on amateur athletics in the United States. Of course, the bill would apply only to Nevada sports books because sports betting is illegal elsewhere in the country.

Before, the betting-ban circus took center ring just in time for the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament. But this year McCain restrained from publicizing his intentions for another try at the legislation during the tournament because of the war in Iraq. McCain was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam war.

McCain is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which would be responsible for introducing any betting-ban measure. So, he would seem to have an upper hand on passage of a bill. But McCain held that same chairmanship two years ago, and he could get only a 10-10 split the last time the committee voted, in May 2001. That outcome came about in part because of the tireless efforts of Nevada's legislators, who lobbied heavy and hard against the measure, claiming it was singling out Nevada because it is the only state where sports betting is legal. The American Gaming Association, the gaming industry's national lobbying arm, also used its influence to prevent the betting ban legislation.

But this time around, a bill to ban college sports betting may have momentum.

While McCain waited for a more opportunistic time to beat his drum, former University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, R-Neb., introduced a college sports betting-ban bill in the House of Representatives on March 26. Osborne, who coached for 36 years before winning his seat in Congress, has brought an inside view to the issue. He has strong feelings about betting on college athletics and believes that the situation is one scandal away from ruining some students athletes' lives.

With his high profile as a three-time national championship-winning coach, Osborne has gained support for his bill. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is also a proponent of the betting ban and is urging Congress to begin work on the legislation as soon as possible. Osborne's bill, at last count, has 28 co-sponsors.

Knowing any betting-ban bill will be a controversial one, McCain says he will refrain from attaching such a measure to any other bill.

McCain is expected to introduce his latest version of a sports betting-ban proposal by the end of April. Again, Nevada's House delegation and its senators, Republican John Ensign and Democrat Harry Reid, will be lobbying to put the spotlight on illegal bookmaking rather than legal betting. Again, they will have an uphill battle in educating their colleagues that the real issue is widespread illegal betting throughout the country and not the regulated legal wagering in Nevada.

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