Sports gambling has become an ingrained habit in America. While it's often looked on with suspicion - as something that undermines the ideals of amateur athletics particularly - Americans pour billions of dollars into it each year.
Betting takes many forms. Nevada, where wagering on even school sports is legal, is a magnet for gamblers. The Internet now has sites devoted to sports betting. Many college sports fans patronize those sites or place a wager through campus bookies. And there are countless sports-betting pools in company offices.
Some members of Congress would like to rein in this activity. They see it, correctly, as a threat to the integrity of amateur sports and a potentially corrupting influence on the young athletes. Their means: a bill to outlaw betting on all college, high school, and Olympic games.
Arrayed against them is the lobbying might of the gambling industry. Casino owners argue that the National Collegiate Athletic Association and state officials should enforce existing rules and laws against betting on school sports events.
They have a point. Current antigambling measures should be strongly enforced, especially on campuses. But that effort is made more difficult by the aura of legality given sports wagering by Las Vegas come-ons, published betting lines in newspapers, and, of course, the Web sites.
A federal law making betting on amateur sports illegal everywhere might step on local toes. But it's a legitimate exercise of federal power to regulate interstate commerce. (Wagering through Web sites based off-shore poses special enforcement problems.)
The proposed legislation would draw a useful line at a time when there seems to be few bounds to the country's tolerance for gambling.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society