WASHINGTON -- Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith and South Carolina football coach Lou Holtz urged Congress to end legal betting on amateur sports, saying it has helped create a world where point spreads matter as much as wins and losses.
In testimony Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee, the coaches said players are tempted to throw games or shave points so the final score is within the spread.
Holtz, who coached Notre Dame to the national championship in 1988, said he has had teams cheered and booed for winning.
''The difference was the point spread,'' he said.
Smith, who coached Kentucky to a national championship in 1998, said point spreads have become part of the sports landscape.
''It hits home because I remember my wife one day saying, 'Tubby, we should be OK tonight because the line says we're going to win.' She never gambled in her life,'' he said. ''I have people come into my office and say, 'Tubby, you're just not winning by enough.' I see it all over.''
But lawmakers and gambling interests from Nevada -- the only state offering legal betting on sports -- say the criticism is misdirected.
''I do not believe a bill banning college sports gambling in Nevada will eliminate or significantly reduce gambling on college sports,'' said Bobby Siller, a Nevada Gaming Control Board member and former FBI agent who investigated gamblers.
The amount of legal sports betting in Nevada is $2.3 billion a year, with about $650 million on college sports. Illegal sports gambling has been estimated at $80 billion-$380 billion a year.
Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., argued there is no evidence that legal gambling in his state is ''in any way responsible for the illegal sports wagering that plagues our nation's college campuses.''
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said eliminating legal bets in Nevada won't solve the problem any more than ''suggesting that outlawing aspirin would stop the sale of illegal drugs.''
The House bill, sponsored by Reps. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Tim Roemer, D-Ind., would ban all gambling on amateur athletic events, such as college sports and the Olympics.
The Senate Commerce Committee already approved a similar bill and a vote in the full Senate could come this week, as an amendment to the defense authorization bill.
''I simply think that we should not gamble with the integrity of our colleges or the future of our college athletes,'' said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who sponsored the bill with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. ''Our young athletes deserve legal protection from the seedy influences of gambling.''
Scandals at Northwestern and Arizona State, among others in recent years, spurred legislative action to close the door on legal gambling on amateur athletics.
''Clearly what you've read about over the last decade is just the tip of the iceberg,'' said James Delaney, commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.
College officials acknowledge gambling is a problem on campuses, whether it's students placing bets or taking them.
''These are the kinds of things that worry us greatly because of the threat they pose to the integrity of our programs,'' said Penn State President Graham Spanier.
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