LAS VEGAS (AP) - The NCAA has been a ''dismal failure'' in protecting amateur athletes from illegal gambling and the Justice Department should pursue the problem, Sen. Harry Reid said Thursday.
Reid issued the critique in discussing a bill he introduced which calls on the U.S. Attorney General's office to investigate illegal gambling on college sports events on campuses nationwide.
''The NCAA is a dismal failure in protecting amateur athletes,'' said Reid, D-Nev. ''They've received billions of dollars from television revenues and I think they should spend some of these resources on the problem of gambling on college campuses.''
The NCAA is backing a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate that would ban betting on college sports at Nevada sports books - the only state in the nation where such bets are legal.
''We have looked at his bill,'' said Doris Dixon, director of federal relations for the NCAA in Washington, D.C. ''If they want to investigate illegal gambling, we say go for it. We are very much interested in learning more about illegal gambling.''
Reid said the NCAA is ''doing nothing, zero, except to embarrass Nevada. That's their whole point.''
He called his bill ''a good foil to this very bad legislation that's being introduced.''
He said the NCAA-backed bill is ''ill-conceived and will only lead to more illegal betting.''
The NCAA-backed bill unfairly targets a Nevada industry ''which is tightly regulated and strictly controlled,'' the senator said.
Reid's bill, entitled, ''The Combating Illegal College and University Gambling Act,'' calls for a Justice Department study of illegal betting on college campuses and the current enforcement of existing laws.
The panel would be composed of local, state and federal officials.
The NCAA has said there are illegal bookies operating on every campus in America.
''While billions of dollars are being generated by college athletics, little of that money is being spent to spread the message that, with a few exceptions, it is illegal to bet on a college game,'' said Reid.
Reid, former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, said the problem ''is not the legal sports betting industry, but the backroom bookies who are breaking the law every single day.''
Under Reid's bill, the Attorney General's office would have one year to come up with recommendations the NCAA, colleges and universities could implement to help fight illegal gambling on campuses.