Updated on 09/16/2011 6:59AM

McCain keeping a low profile - for now


All's quiet on the legislative front. Maybe too quiet.

This is the time of year, during March Madness, when members of Congress - led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) - try to call attention to their fight to ban college sports betting in the state of Nevada, the only state where it is legal.

Last year, McCain brought several prominent college coaches to Capitol Hill to drum up support for his crusade. But this year there has been a notable lack of activity. There are three reasons for that:

o The bill has lost momentum. Last April's Senate Commerce Committee hearings turned the table in the battle. The gambling industry was able to convince the committee that Nevada's sports books act as a watchdog and help prevent point-shaving scandals thanks to witnesses such as Danny Sheridan of USA Today and Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Newell. The bill passed out of committee in May 2001 but only after surviving a 10-10 vote on an amendment favored by the industry that would have deleted the word "college" from McCain's Amateur Sports Integrity Act. A similar vote in 2000 was 16-2 against the industry's amendment, so the state of Nevada obviously made great strides. Those developments shocked McCain, who was the chairman of the committee before Vermont Sen. James Jeffords left the Republican party to become an independent. McCain lost his chairmanship, and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved up to the No. 2 position in the Senate, providing another huge obstacle for the bill.

o McCain has other priorities right now. Thursday, McCain told reporters in Washington: "All issues are second to getting campaign finance reform done." McCain has been much more successful in that fight, and he's close to closing the deal. The danger to the gambling industry is that McCain's public stature, power, and influence will only increase as he gets credit for pulling that off.

o The calm before the storm. The American Gaming Association - the gaming industry's top lobbying group in Washington - knows it can't let its guard down. "We're certainly not ignoring it," the AGA's Naomi Greer said Wednesday. "We know that McCain could try to bring this up on the [Senate] floor at anytime, especially after he's done with campaign finance reform, so we're continuing to garner support so we're ready when they are."

Until then, it's a waiting game.

Round two picks

Speaking of betting on college games, the second round of the NCAA tournament commences Saturday with eight games and another eight on Sunday to whittle the field down to the Sweet 16.

As of Thursday afternoon, three second-round games were set, so I will take a quick peek at the matchups:

Kent State (+3) vs. Alabama

As the South Regional's No. 2 seed and an 18-point favorite, Alabama received a huge scare before pulling away to an 86-78 over Florida Atlantic. The Tide could be dangerous after being given new life. However, I still like Kent State, which gave me my first winning bet of the tournament by defeating Oklahoma State, 69-61, as a 2-point favorite (even though Kent was seeded 10th and OSU seventh). Kent, which has won 19 straight games, showed a lot of resiliency as it withstood every run by Oklahoma State.

Kentucky (-6) vs. Tulsa

No. 4 seed Kentucky jumped out to a huge lead over Valparaiso and coasted to an 83-68 win as a 7-point favorite. Another inspired effort like that should take care of No. 12 seed Tulsa, which upset Marquette, 71-69. Kentucky's star player, Tayshaun Prince, didn't shoot well (5 for 14 from the field, 0 for 6 from 3-point range) but made up for it with solid defense. He should bounce back with a better scoring effort vs. Tulsa.

Missouri (+2 1/2) vs. Ohio State

Missouri, the No. 12 seed in the West as one of the last at-large teams to make the field, is back to the form it showed when the Tigers won their first nine games of the year and were ranked No. 2. They dismantled Miami, 93-80, on Thursday as all five starters scored in double figures. They are a legitimate Cinderella team. No. 4 seed Ohio State, the Big Ten champ, barely escaped with a 69-64 win over Davidson. The value is with the underrated dog.