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Thursday, April 03, 2008
March Madness Gambling Reaches a Different Level

Michael McCarthy of USA Today reports that Las Vegas sports books are now offering "prop bets" on the Final Four game performances of individual players such as Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington of UNC, Derrick Rose and Joey Dorsey of Memphis, Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers of Kansas, and Kevin Love and Josh Shipp of UCLA (Las Vegas' Slate of Final Four Wagers Grows, 4/2/08). The prop bets consist primarily of over-under wagers on points scored or points-rebounds-assists totals, and McCarthy noted that gamblers can even wager on whether a particular clutch free throw shooter will miss one from the line.

March Madness betting, in general, is huge -- the article mentions that, in March 2007, betting on college and pro basketball in Nevada more than doubled to $228 million from $107 million the previous month. Prop betting, in particular, raises serious concerns about the integrity of the game in light of the alarming statistics regarding the influence of gambling on amateur athletes. The NCAA's 2003 National Study on Collegiate Sports Wagering found that 2.3 percent of football players and 2.1 percent of men's basketball players admitted in questionnaires that they had been asked to affect the outcome of a game because of gambling debts. In addition, 1.1 percent of football players and 0.5 percent of basketball players reported that they had taken money for playing poorly in a game. And 17.2 percent of male Division-I student athletes reported that they had bet on collegiate sports. Indeed, it would be naive to think that those percentages are not actually much higher because they are based on responses to surveys conducted by the NCAA, creating an inherent disincentive to respond truthfully in light of the prospect of being implicated in gambling activity.

The NCAA and its member schools acknowledge the concern generated by prop bets. But when it comes to responsibility addressing the problem, everybody is pointing the finger at each other. A spokeswoman for the NCAA told McCarthy that the NCAA lets schools decide how to handle prop bets on their student athletes, and that some schools have asked casinos to take those prop bets off the board. However, a spokesman for UNC told McCarthy that it looks to the NCAA "to lead the way" on gambling issues. In all fairness to the NCAA and its member schools, this problem is much bigger than them -- they can't control Vegas. In a 2004 press release regarding the results of the 2003 study, NCAA President Myles Brand said: "The scope of sports wagering among intercollegiate student-athletes is startling and disturbing. Sports wagering is a double-threat because it harms the well-being of student-athletes and the integrity of college sports."

Congress, and not the NCAA nor its member schools, is capable of doing something now about prop betting this weekend. Banning prop betting would be a step in the right direction in tackling the problem of gambling in collegiate athletics in general.


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