NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Keep Sports Gambling Legal in Nevada

March 14, 2000

Sports gambling surges with "March Madness," the college basketball championship tournament. Gambling on sports is pervasive in the U.S., and mostly illegal.

Congress, in 1992, made almost all sports gambling illegal. Now it is contemplating a ban on the only legal sports betting in America -- in Nevada, where sports gambling is heavily regulated, closely supervised and restricted to people who are at least 21 and physically present.

Supporters of extending the ban to Nevada say it will close a "loophole" or remove an "ambiguity" in the 1992 law, although Congress explicitly "grandfathered" Nevada.

  • In 1998, Americans spent about $450 billion on groceries but made $630 billion in legal wagers, and lost $50 billion of that (seven times more than they spent on movie tickets).
  • As much as $380 billion more may be wagered illegally on sports annually, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission estimated last year.
  • Other estimates are as low as $80 billion; but either figures shows Nevada's sports betting -- in 1998, $2.3 billion on college and professional events -- is not the problem.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has had reason to be glad legal gambling exists in Nevada: The 1994 point-shaving scandal involving some Arizona State University basketball players was discovered when Nevada sports bookies noticed suspicious patterns of wagering on ASU games. If those bets had been made with illegal bookies, there would have been no evidence that games were being fixed.

Source: George Will (Washington Post), "Gambling won't be 'cured' by legislation," Dallas Morning News, March 10, 2000.


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