Bettors ready to Dance!Is NCAA tourney the Last Dance for Vegas books?

March 13, 2001 8:27 AM
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Will this month’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament be the last time Nevadans can legally bet on college sports?

Just like predicting a college basketball game, nobody has a sure bet on what will happen. But there’s some movement in the war. The tournament starts Thursday, and the battle between the NCAA and the Nevada gaming industry is blowtorch hot.

There is excitement in Las Vegas about the tourney, but the gaming industry and bettors have their fingers crossed on whether this will be the last dance.

Battle in D.C.

Another round of this battle took place last week. Nevada gaming representatives went to Washington to lure congressmen to the industry’s side of the court.

There are two pending bills, one a house bill and another offered from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan. The McCain-Brownback bill, which gained the national spotlight, was introduced in February 2000.

MGM MIRAGE corporate spokesperson Alan Feldman was one of several from the industry and one of four from the property to present Nevada’s side in Washington.

"Our point got across to the majority of them," said Feldman, who added his group spoke to about 30 representatives. "We talked about the stupidity of the NCAA’s position. What the NCAA is trying to do is pit (legal sports betting) against students."

A bill against betting, which did not have a final vote last year is scheduled to be resurrected next month by Reps. Tim Roemer D-Ind., and Lindsey Graham R-S.C.

Feeling inside
Las Vegas

Freedom to wager on college sports is in jeopardy. So is Nevada tourism revenue during March.

"It will create a large business drop in town for the month, not only for the (sports betting) business, but for everyone in town" said John Avello, race and sports book manager at Bally’s/Paris.

Bettors are scared, according to Rob Terry, Palace Station race and sports book manager.

"Our (Palace Station) bettors write to their senators," he said. "They’re vocal on this issue. We’re fortunate (good representation) is standing up for us. People like to bet in the books. We see them every day. They know they’re going to get paid. Our patrons are local. They wager for fun. They play for entertainment."

There’s also talk in Las Vegas that the new format of playing a play-in tournament game on Tuesday may be a ploy by the NCAA to slow office pools nationwide. The play-in game, which is Tuesday, would give people less time to fill out a pool and might cut down on that form of illegal wagering.

The NCAA says the play-in was added because the Mountain West Conference automatic bid was added.

Will the ban bill pass?

The betting ban’s passage is as unpredictable as a 23-foot jump shot.

But Avello said the betting industry’s chances are improving.

"I think we have a little momentum (right now). I’m a little more optimistic than in the past," he said.

And if a bill banning collegiate wagering becomes law?

"People won’t stop betting on college sports," Terry said. "They’ll go offshore.

Terry seems confident because he said Nevada’s bills are winners.

"I think the (Nevada) bill should be taken," he said. "What (the members against betting) have come out with is ludicrous. Our senators have the right bill. Our message to the NCAA is: Don’t try to change for someone else if you can’t fix your own problems."