- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2000

In 1992, federal legislation was signed into law that banned gambling on professional and amateur sporting events in the United States. The ban covered all collegiate games and the Olympics with one huge exception: Nevada. Legal gambling on college and Olympic games thrives in Nevada as a result of a loophole included in the 1992 Act.
Washington, we have a problem. This loophole needs to be closed.
The Vegas exemption has not worked for collegiate athletics and is jeopardizing the integrity of our games. As the University of South Carolina football coach, my heart is in the game of football. I can assure you of my genuine love of the game and my concern about what gambling on college sports can do to it. As coaches, we do everything we can to protect and educate our players about sports gambling, but ultimately we fight an uphill battle, primarily because this activity is still legal in Nevada.
Nevada promotes and glamorizes sports gambling, sending a mixed message to the other states where it is illegal. Nevada provides a place where large sums of money can be bet on our players with no questions asked. And most important, Nevada provides an avenue for illegal bookies to place bets made illegally in all our communities, fostering the illegal gambling that has become so pervasive.
Interestingly although Nevada allows betting on teams in every other state, it prohibits betting on its own teams for fear of gambling-related scandals. Legislation is pending before the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 3575) and Senate (S. 2340) that would give to teams in other states the same protections that Nevada provides to its own. The bills remove Nevada's exemption and make the betting ban on college sports effective nationwide. I stand united with other college coaches who have endorsed this legislation in calling on Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Dennis Hastert to finish what the 1992 legislation started by allowing Congress to vote on closing this loophole before the 106th Congress comes to an end.
I am a great believer that life is a matter of choices, and choices have consequences. I have been deeply saddened and affected by seeing promising, talented young athletes make the wrong choices and pay dearly for them. Over the last four years, basketball players at Arizona State and Northwestern universities were indicted on charges of point-shaving. In the three years prior to that, football players at Boston College and the University of Maryland were suspended for gambling on college games, and at least four admitted to having placed bets on their own games.
For those unaware of the rise of illegal gambling, take note. The 1990s saw more college sports gambling-related scandals on college campuses than the previous five decades combined. These scandals are the direct result of the out-of-control increase of gambling on college athletics.
The problem is not with our student-athletes. They don't come to our programs looking to gamble away victories and end careers. The pressure that gambling puts on people is amazing. It can cripple bank accounts, cast a powerful spell that ultimately ends up in addiction and cause people to do things they would never do normally. In Washington, it seems that the power of this wealthy industry can also result in holding up legislation that common sense dictates should be passed.
As a football coach, I have witnessed our football players be idolized, praised and cheered after a win. I have also witnessed their being ridiculed, demonized and ostracized after a win. The only difference was in one case we covered the point spread, in the other we did not. I think that we have to do everything we can to remove this temptation and to stop the pressure this betting places on our young people.
We do a great disservice to the youth of this country if we do not take action now. To make it illegal to bet on college athletics will not completely solve the problem. We must stop all betting on the Internet as well. But I see no way that curbing illegal betting on college sports can be accomplished without taking the first step to make betting on college athletics illegal in Nevada. It's time to get the point spreads off the sports page for college sports. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission recommended that we ban betting on college sports.
We need restrictions because of the abuse that has resulted from legal betting on college sports college students and athletes are the victims. Harry Truman, one of my heroes, said, "The freedom to swing your fist ends where the other guy's nose begins." The freedom to bet on athletic events should stop when college contests start. The fact that many college students' lives have been altered for the worse because of gambling cannot be disputed. In the future, it must be prevented. College sports is too important to the fabric of our society to jeopardize it.
I am not a politician, and I'm not interested in how much money the gambling industry contributes to either party. I do, however, have more than 40 years experience as a college coach and educator, and I know that the only possible solution to this problem is for Congress to pass legislation to prohibit gambling on college sports, in every state, now.

Lou Holtz is football coach at the University of South Carolina.

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