Coaches Holtz, Smith support ban on amateur sports gambling

WASHINGTON - Two titans of college sports, Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith and South Carolina football coach Lou Holtz, urged Congress on Tuesday to ban gambling on amateur athletics.


The coaches described for the House Judiciary Committee a pervasive threat in which players are tempted with illegal cash payoffs to lose games or to win by fewer points than expected, called point shaving.


''It hits home because I remember my wife one day saying, 'Tubby, we should be OK tonight because the line says we're going to win.' She never gambled in her life,'' said Smith, who coached Kentucky to a national championship.


''I have people come into my office and say, 'Tubby, you're just not winning by enough.' I see it all over.''


Holtz, who coached Notre Dame to the national championship, said he's had teams cheered and idolized for wins and also booed and lambasted for wins.


''The difference was the point spread,'' he said.


But lawmakers and regulators from Nevada - the only state offering legal betting on amateur sports - say gambling critics are aiming at the wrong goal.


''I do not believe a bill banning college sports gambling in Nevada will eliminate or significantly reduce gambling on college sports,'' said Bobby Siller, a Nevada Gaming Control Board member and former FBI agent who investigated gamblers.


Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., argued that there is no evidence that legal gambling in his state is ''in any way responsible for the illegal sports wagering that plagues our nation's college campuses.''


Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said eliminating legal bets in Nevada won't solve the problem any more than ''outlawing aspirin would stop the sale of illegal drugs.''


The House bill sponsored by Reps. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Tim Roemer, D-Ind., would ban all gambling on amateur athletic events, such as college sports and the Olympics. The Senate Commerce Committee already approved a similar bill and a vote in the full Senate could come this week, as an amendment to the defense authorization bill.


''I simply think that we should not gamble with the integrity of our colleges or the future of our college athletes,'' said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who sponsored the bill with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. ''Our young athletes deserve legal protection from the seedy influences of gambling.''


The amount of legal sports betting in Nevada is $2.3 billion a year, with about $650 million on college sports. Illegal sports gambling has been estimated at $80 billion to $380 billion a year.


In contrast, Nevada reported statewide gross gambling revenues to be $15.39 billion in fiscal 1999.


Scandals at Northwestern and Arizona State universities, among others in recent years, spurred legislative action to close the door on all gambling on amateur athletics.


''Clearly what you've read about over the last decade is just the tip of the iceberg,'' said James Delaney, commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.


College officials acknowledged the difficulty of uncovering gambling problems before they are publicized.


''We have student bookies on campus. We have bets being placed with bookies outside campus,'' said Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University.


''These are the kinds of things that worry us greatly because of the threat they pose to the integrity of our programs.''


Sens. Harry Reid and Richard Bryan, both D-Nev., complained that they weren't allowed to testify at the House hearing.


''The proposal to eliminate a lawful business which employs many in our state and serves millions of tourists across our country deserves a free and open debate,'' they wrote. ''We believe there is a compelling case to be made against a ban.''


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The bill numbers are H.R. 3575 and S. 2267.


On the Net: the House Judiciary Committee is at www.house.gov/judiciary

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