WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday he does not know if he will revive a bill to prevent Nevada sports books from taking bets on college basketball and football games.
“Until there’s a scandal, we won’t pass it,” McCain said. “The gambling interests are too powerful. But there will be another scandal.”
If McCain chooses not to reintroduce the bill, it will be the first time in six years the Senate has not considered outlawing college sports betting at Nevada casinos. McCain first introduced the legislation in 2000.
In the House, Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., former situs judi poker coach at the University of Nebraska, plans to try again with a betting ban similar to McCain’s, according to spokeswoman Erin Hegge.
Supporters of the betting ban say it is needed to discourage gambling on amateur athletes. But the legislation has been bottled up primarily by opposition from Nevada’s senators, who say the real problem is sports betting that is not regulated.
Making McCain’s task more difficult is that he is no longer chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, the panel that would vote on a proposed betting ban.
Not only is McCain no longer chairman, but Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is. The relationship between McCain and Stevens is reportedly strained because McCain criticized the Alaskan for pork barrel spending during his term as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Stevens was asked about the sports gambling issue on Tuesday but declined to comment.
“Let me tell you, I do not talk about my committee in the hall,” he said.
But Stevens spokeswoman Melanie Alvord said he would schedule a hearing on a sports betting bill if one is introduced.
Nevada sports books accept wagers of more than $2 billion annually. About 30 percent of those bets are placed on college games.
“The Super Bowl is our biggest single event, but the first four days of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are a close second,” said Bob Scucci, race and sports book manager at the Stardust.
On May 3, 2001, the Senate Commerce Committee deadlocked 10-10 on an amendment by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., that would have gutted McCain’s bill.
The tie defeated Ensign’s amendment, and the panel went on to pass McCain’s bill by voice vote. But the 10-10 stalemate on Ensign’s amendment slowed momentum for McCain’s bill, and a vote on the Senate floor never occurred.
On Tuesday, Ensign said he is confident that Stevens would not support McCain’s bill.
“He certainly was on our side last time, and we think he would be on our side again,” Ensign said.
Stevens did not vote on the Ensign amendment in 2001. But after that vote, Alvord said Stevens opposed the McCain bill “because (Stevens) believes this is a policy states should determine.”
Ensign said he does not see a college sports betting ban passing Congress in the foreseeable future.
Another problem for McCain is the opposition of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the new Democratic leader.
McCain’s bill drew only three co-sponsors in the last Congress, and was not scheduled for a hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee. Osborne’s bill also did not come up for a committee hearing.
Online gambling ads: free speech or illegal?
The operator of a gambling news site on the Internet has asked a federal judge to declare that advertisements in U.S. media for foreign online casinos and sports betting outlets are protected by free-speech rights.
The suit, filed by Louisiana-based Casino City Inc. in Baton Rouge federal court, challenges subpoenas sent by the Justice Department to media outlets for records dealing with the purchase of ads for offshore gambling sites.
Online casinos and sports betting books are not legal in the United States, but operations in locales such as the Caribbean have sprung up widely in recent years with U.S. residents making bets through credit card transactions.
The suit by Casino City, which operates a Web site featuring news about casinos and sports books but does not offer wagering, contends that the Justice Department action has “had a chilling effect upon free speech” — as well as a dent in its advertising revenue.
The suit contends that the Justice Department also has warned major media trade groups, such as the National Association of Broadcasters, that running such ads may subject a media outlet to criminal prosecution under the 1961 Wire Communications Act, which was written to cover sports betting by telephone.
A number of major Internet portals recently stopped accepting ads for online casinos and sports books.
Casino City president Michael Corfman said his company lost business with a cable television network and a mainstream casino after “their lawyers nixed the arrangement because of our involvement with online gaming.”
Much of Casino City’s revenue comes from ads for online gambling services, the suit said.
The company said that since the ads are for Internet operations that are legal in the countries where they operate, the ads running in the United States should be fully covered by the First Amendment as an “exercise of free expression.”
The Justice Department declined to comment.