May 3, 2001 9:49 PM

The Senate Commerce Committee today passed a bill that would end legal betting on NCAA sports and other amateur athletic events.

A move by U.S. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada to kill the bill died on a deadlocked 10-10 vote, with five Republicans and five Democrats supporting it. A swing vote, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, was absent. Ensign had counted on Stevens' vote.

Last year, the sports betting ban -- authored by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- passed out of the committee by a 17-2 vote. "We still consider it a victory," said Ensign spokeswoman Traci Scott.

Ensign managed to add two amendments: One would require universities to monitor student gambling, the other would provide for expedited court review.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, now intends to bring the bill before the full Senate for a vote.

McCain could either call for a vote on the bill as written, or attach the bill as an amendment to other legislation, such as budget or education measures.

The Nevada delegation has vowed to lobby Senators to defeat the bill.

Should the bill eventually become law, a court challenge is virtually certain.