Runnin’ Rebels Runnin’ Scared

  A week before anyone had ever seen an XFL team play, Las Vegas casinos had already set a point spread and were taking bets on the games. This fact prompted one ESPN announcer to wonder which was more pathetic: the fact that you could place the bet, or the fact that people were betting? They were betting on something they knew nothing about -- betting that has nothing to do with sports and is no different than a roulette wheel. What's worse is that, thanks to Nevada officials, the number of sporting events you can bet on is going up. Historically, the only college sports teams you couldn't bet on in Nevada were Nevada's two universities: The University of Nevada and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. How did gambling officials justify a policy that allowed betting on schools in, say, Florida, but not in their own backyard? Well, don't laugh, but they claimed to be protecting athletes from possible corruption. Nevada officials cited the proximity of the schools in Nevada, and their athletes, to bookmakers and gamblers. They insisted that the ban was necessary in the state to protect the integrity of intercollegiate athletics. Then the NCAA, the body that governs intercollegiate sports, decided that Nevada officials were half right. Citing the possibility of corruption and the threat to the integrity of college sports, the NCAA initiated a major push to ban betting on all college sports. A bill, sponsored by Senator John McCain, that would have banned betting on all college sports, was easily approved by Senate and House committees last year. But gambling supporters succeeded in keeping the measure from ever coming to a final vote. McCain and the NCAA supporters promise to re-introduce the measure this year. Good! But the proposed legislation has caused Nevada officials to re-think their position on betting on college sports. They realized there couldn't be one standard for Nevada schools and another for the rest of the country. So, a few days before the Super Bowl, while people's attention was diverted, Nevada officials voted to allow gambling on Nevada schools as well. What changed? Well, it's not that the threat to Nevada schools has diminished. It's that Nevada officials didn't want their old policy and rationale used against them by opponents of gambling on college sports. Given the choice between protecting Nevada athletes and protecting the interests of the gambling industry, the choice was easy for Nevada gambling officials: The athletes could take care of themselves. The gambling industry, you see, spends millions to gain political influence. The good news is that this cynical attitude won't do anything to slow the movement against betting on college sports. The Federal Gambling Impact Study Commission has recommended a ban. Also, the NCAA and Senator McCain have the support of coaching legends like Dean Smith and Joe Paterno to persuade Congress to put the integrity of the game ahead of gambling interests. And that's an effort worthy of our support. A nation that spends hundreds of billions each year on gambling needs fewer, not more, events to bet on. Even more, it needs to periodically affirm that some things simply shouldn't be the subject of a wager. It would be a sad day if we could not bring ourselves to say at least that.


Chuck Colson



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