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Ban on Legal Betting Illogical

Commentary: Proposed legislation would not stop illegal gambling and could encourage point-shaving.

April 03, 2001|PETE NEWELL | Pete Newell, a former Laker general manager, coached San Francisco to the NIT championship in 1949 and California to the NCAA championship in 1959

For more than 50 years, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to coach and teach basketball to some of the world's most talented college, amateur and professional athletes.

During this time, there have been many exhilarating victories and agonizing defeats. But whether it's taking a little-known West Coast team to a victory at the National Invitation Tournament, winning a NCAA championship and being part of an Olympic gold-medal team or helping NBA and college players improve their skills, I have been proud to be part of the transformation and progression of one of this country's most popular sports.

I have also witnessed some of the sport's darkest moments, most notably the college basketball point-shaving scandals of the 1940s and '50s. Back then, there was no legal betting to speak of, but when the scandals finally came to light, 32 players were implicated in the fixing of 86 games in 17 states, all due to illegal gambling.

These scandals changed the sport forever.

The prospect of a return to the ugliness of that dark period has motivated me to turn my passion away from the action at the NCAA tournament to draw attention to the blind politics on the sidelines.

The NCAA is pursuing federal legislation to ban the small amount of legal betting on college sports, including NCAA basketball games, while doing nothing about illegal gambling.

While I have the greatest respect for the coaches who are involved in the NCAA's efforts--indeed a number are close and cherished friends--they were not there, as I was, to witness the terrible events of the 1940s and '50s.

I'm sure that my friends have only good intentions, but the fact of the matter is, they're wrong.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not a proponent of gambling, but I am a realist. History demonstrates that a ban on legal betting will not reduce the threat of point-shaving schemes. It will only increase the risk that history will repeat.

The fact is that if not for the scrutiny of regulated sports books in Nevada, many modern point-shaving schemes would never have been revealed. It is the legal gaming operations in Nevada that often blow the whistle on these scandals when they pick up on suspicious activity. The huge scandals of the 1940s and '50s did not repeat in the mid-1990s mainly because Nevada's public sports books and regulators were there to oversee wagers.

My questions are: Why is the NCAA focusing on a ban on legal betting when, by the NCAA's admission, the Nevada sports books have helped uncover fixes? Why is the NCAA focusing on the tiny amount of legal and regulated betting in Nevada when the past has shown that point-shaving scandals are the result of widespread illegal gambling that takes place in the rest of the country?

What do I believe the NCAA really needs to do?

The NCAA needs to set an example by not blaming others for the gambling problems on college campuses. A ban that will do nothing to prevent illegal gambling on college campuses and encourages point-shaving schemes is the worst thing we can do. We have come too far since the sad days of the 1940s and '50s to risk going backward by taking away Nevada's role in protecting the integrity of college sports.

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