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Editorial: Lawmakers, colleges need to show their hands on sports bets

Once the U.S. Supreme Court decided 15 months ago to open the way for states to legalize betting on collegiate sports, it was as close to a sure thing as you can get that one of New Mexico’s casinos would put the hometown college teams on the board.

But the odds aren’t in on whether it’s even legal in New Mexico, or what schools can do to protect the integrity of their programs.

One of the first at the table is Isleta Resort & Casino, which now accepts bets on football and basketball games involving New Mexico college teams, as Journal reporter Geoff Grammer reported Aug. 14. It’s definitely a sound business move; the American Gaming Association says Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year. And New Mexicans love their hometown teams, be they University of New Mexico Lobos or New Mexico State University Aggies. And while Santa Ana Star Casino’s leadership is taking the cautious route – the casino now allows college sports betting but hasn’t opened a book for N.M. teams – there is little doubt enthusiasts will take advantage of the new betting option.

There is still a question as to whether the move is legal here. The Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling definitely deferred to states. But so far lawmakers have not run a sports gambling bill (though Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, has said sports gambling is a “guaranteed profitable industry” and the state should have adopted legislation pre-Supreme Court ruling).

Guy Clark of Stop Predatory Gambling New Mexico argues “a close reading of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act reveals that tribes can only offer forms of gambling legal to all other parties in the state,” and sports betting is something “the Legislature has not allowed.”

It’s worth noting, as Grammer did in an opinion column Sunday, that only the naive think underground college sports betting hasn’t already been going on in New Mexico. And there’s something to be said for bringing it out of the shadows. But then why are the major sports leagues and the NCAA against it? They argue a gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games.

There’s also an argument to be made that in a state with such high poverty rates – almost half the state’s residents are on Medicaid and one in four is on food stamps – it’s unconscionable to offer folks yet another avenue to lose the rent. Ditto for adding still another group of people who haven’t put in the sweat and tears of training to those who can make a buck on the backs of unpaid college athletes.

Another major question is how schools will navigate the new environment – and what kinds of foul lines they can construct to keep players away from the bets. The NCAA has strict rules against student-athlete involvement with any type of sports wagering – legal or otherwise – but meanwhile Boston College basketball and football and Arizona State and Tulane basketball have been rocked by point-shaving scandals, and Northwestern basketball by fixed games.

State lawmakers need to weigh in ASAP, while N.M.’s universities in the interim at least have to budget oversight accordingly. Because the only safe bet when it comes to gambling is someone will go over the line.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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